We’re pretty slow to adapt to new technologies, but we’re getting there. Last year we launched a Hymie’s Instagram page #hymiesmpls, which has maybe a few more pictures of Irene the Dog than are really necessary.
And this month we’ve been working on collecting all the videos we co-produced with our pals from Pabst Twin Cities (who you can follow in Instagram at #pabsttc, by the way). They have all been posted here in the past, and also on the City Pages‘ Gimme Noise blog, but we’ve never collected them on Youtube until now.
This link‘ll take you to the most popular video on the channel so far, and you can scroll down and see the rest.
John Coltrane’s “Reverend King” was recorded in February 1966, just a few weeks after Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and his family had moved into their 1550 South Hamlin Avenue apartment in Chicago, to begin working on the Open Housing campaign.
The recording was released posthumously in late January 1968 on Cosmic Music, one of the first two LPs Impulse records pulled from unissued recordings after Coltrane’s death. Eventually there would eight albums in all — plus many live recordings — found in the archives. Fans have mixed reactions to some of these recordings, but “Reverend King” is surely an excellent example of Coltrane’s last group at work. This band featured his wife, Alice, Pharaoh Sanders, Jimmy Garrison, Rashid Ali, and on “Reverend King” additional percussionists Ray Appleton and Ben Reilly.
At the time the recording was released on Cosmic Music, Reverend King had recently announced the Poor People’s Campaign, with a focus on pushing Congress to pass a economic bill of rights” for working people, as outlined in his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?
The campaign’s broad agenda was not received well by many of The Reverend King’s dearest supporters, notably Bayard Rustin. Five years earlier Rustin had been the primary logistical organizer of the 1963 march in Washington DC at which Reverend King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
After Reverend King’s assassination on April 4th, thousands of demonstrators established a symbolic shanty town at the National Mall where he had delivered this famous address. The encampment was called “Resurrection City” and remained for nearly six weeks.
“Reverend King” was not the first piece of music in which Coltrane expressed the inspiration he found in the Civil Rights leader. He modeled one of his most moving songs, “Alabama,” on Reverend King’s eulogy for the four victims of the September 15, 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church.
Reverend King’s eulogy for Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carol Denise McNair was delivered three days later, and is a deeply moving and spiritual address, which does not shy from the political situation which led to the terrible terrorist attack. A funeral for the fourth girl, Carole Robertson, was held on a different date.
(we posted an alternate version of Coltrane’s “Alabama” here)
Thank to all reading. We hope you take an interest in these recordings because the goals of racial and economic equality outlined by Reverend King in these speeches and in his last book are still within our reach. We also hope you stay warm on this extremely cold day here in Minneapolis and do not forget those around us who struggle for safety and shelter in this weather.
Oh, and your friendly neighborhood record shop will be open it’s regular hours — 11am to 7pm — on this national holiday.
There’s this li’l section here in your friendly neighborhood record shop we call “The movie is so bad, but the music is so good!” Its hard to find soundtrack albums which fit the bill, but sort of a fun project — the other challenge is that folks buy up the best ones right away because, after all, the music is so good.
Obvious examples would be movies like More American Graffiti: the unwanted sequel’s soundtrack was filled with sixties favorites. Other examples would be when an artist creates an original score which ages more gracefully than the album itself. Perhaps the best example of this is also an extraordinarily rare record: nobody on Earth wants to see She’s the One again, but countless Tom Petty fans would love to track down an elusive copy of the LP.
And The Big Chill, which was a completely unrewarding movie to anyone who wasn’t a self-absorbed baby boomer, but enjoyed the first wave of Motown’s licensing of its extensive catalog, making the soundtrack a sort of ‘essential 60s’ collection. It did so well a second volume was introduced the following year.
And Super Fly— probably the best example of a soundtrack album far superior to the film itself. In fact, it’s one of few films to make less money than its accompanying record.
Curtis Mayfield recorded more than twenty-five albums after leaving the Impressions, but his name is synonymous with the seventies soundtrack based largely on this classic record. Curtis Mayfield’s score for the 1972 movie fits better with the socially conscious albums by Curtis’ contemporaries Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder than the rest of the blaxsploitation genre. Super Fly is entirely different from albums like Isaac Hayes’ Shaft and James Brown’s Black Caesar.
In songs like “Pusherman” and “No Thing on Me” Curtis criticizes the glorification of dealers and pimps in films like Super Fly. and presents a more accurate picture of drug abuse. This is exactly what critics of the movie (like the NAACP) were asking to see. Super Fly is one of the best anti-drug albums ever made.
Also, the songs are some of the best Curtis ever wrote. “Pusherman” and “Give me your Love (Love Song)” are completely original arrangements only Curtis could have created — and the title track is one of his funkiest moments on record.
And its phenomenal success provided Curtis the opportunity to score several more films in the coming years.
The overwhelmingly ironic 1971 album Bill Cosby Talks to Kids About Drugs aside, there were few explicit anti-drug messages to be found in record stores in the early 70s, especially in the soul section. This is especially unfortunate because of the enormous societal toll drug traffic took from those in the inner cities. Curtis’ portrayal of dope fiends and dealers (especially in “Freddy’s Dead”) present a cautionary tale which presaged the crack epidemic of a decade later.
After finishing an excellent follow-up album of new material (Back to the World), Curtis turned to his next film project: the soundtrack for Claudine, a family drama which fit the demands of organizations like the NAACP, who wished to see more African-American films outside the blaxsploitation genre. The songs on Curtis’ soundtrack for Claudine were performed by Gladys Knight & the Pips, hot off the success of their top-selling album Imagination, from which came “Midnight Train to Georgia” and three other hit singles.
The movie Claudine carried heavy social messages about the African-American community, but Curtis translated few of these into his songs for the score, focusing instead on the film’s love story between a single mother played by singer Diahann Carroll and a garbageman played by James Earl Jones. The songs are more in the style of his later-period music with the Impressions than the heavy funk infused soul of Super Fly, but the song “On and On” was a top 10 single in that style.
Curtis again brought guests into the studio to perform the songs for his next soundtrack album, Let’s Do It Again. This time it was the Staple Singers, who had just signed onto his Curtom label after the Stax bankruptcy. The legendary gospel-turned-sou. group proved to be a perfect fit to Curtis’ sound, and the soundtrack’s title tune was a hit single.
Let’s Do It Again is the middle film in a trilogy of Sydney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedies set around zany schemes. The first, Uptown Saturday Night, had been scored by soul saxophonist Tom Scott, and Curtis would come back with Mavis Staples to produce the music for the third, A Piece of the Action.
Let’s Do It Again finds the pair rigging boxing matches by hypnotizing an underdog fighter played by Jimmie Walker, who starred as J.J. on TV’s Good Times., and had recently released his debut comedy album (which we posted last week).
It’s a pretty good comedy, but folks aren’t really scrambling to find classic Cosby these days. Curtis’ soundtrack, however, is well worth the work to hunt down a copy.
His score for the last film in the series was released as a Mavis Staples solo album. We couldn’t find a copy for this post, but you can enjoy the theme (plus watch the one and only Sidney Poitier dance) in its closing scene:
The 1976 period piece Sparkle starred Irene Cara (pre-Fame) in a Supremes-based story about singing sisters. The film received few positive reviews and would be entirely forgotten if it weren’t for Curtis’ soundtrack, which has Aretha Franklin singing all the leads instead of Cara.
Sparkle provided Aretha with her last hit single of the seventies, but it falls short of Curtis’ collaborations with Mavis Staples or Gladys Knight.
The last movie score Curtis produced until he returned to Hollywood to provide a few songs for The Return of Super Fly in 1990) was for Short Eyes, a prison drama based on Miguel Piñero’s award winning play. Unlike Super Fly, nothing is glorified in this harsh and realistic portrayal of prison life, which Piñero penned while serving in Sing Sing for armed robbery.
The story, which culminates in the beating death of a pedophile, has been praised for its presentation of prison hierarchy and race relations. Curtis’ album is equally gritty. He’d opened his first solo album with “Don’t Worry, If there’s a Hell Below We’re All Gonna Go,” and here starts off with a song which includes the line, “Ain’t no Heaven, ain’t no Heaven, ain’t no Heaven.” Short Eyes is our favorite Curtis Mayfield album. Highlights include some of his very best guitar work in the hopeless lament “Back Against the Wall” (where he sounds like Funkadelic’s Eddie Hazel) and his brand of innovative high-production funk in “Freak Freak Freak, Free Free Free.”
The opening track, “Doo Doo Wap (is Strong in Here)” was one of Curtis’ last charting hits, and would belong on any “Best of Curtis Mayfield” collection, if such a thing exists.
Short Eyes hit shelves in the waning years of the American prisoners’ rights movement, which had previously seen some attention in popular music. Bob Dylan had a largely forgotten hit single (peaking at #33 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart) in 1972 with a song lauding prison writer and Black Panther activist George Jackson. His death — shot in the back during an escape attempt — led to prison protests around the country, notably the Attica uprising in upstate New York which began three weeks after Jackson’s death on September 9th, 1971.
The Attica uprising and its violent aftermath were the subject of many records in the coming years, including songs by John Lennon (“Attica State”), Paul Simon (“Virgil”) and 10cc (“Rubber Bullets”). Gil Scott-Heron referenced Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s culpability in “We Beg Your Pardon” and Charles Mingus implored listeners to “Remember Rockefeller at Attica” on Changes One.
Much of the prisoners’ movement came to a screeching halt with the Supreme Court’s Houchins v. KQED Inc ruling in 1978, which established there existed no “right of access” when it came to the incarcerated. This effectively shut off the movement’s ability to reach the masses via the media, and interest in the rights of the incarcerated waned just as, unfortunately, the war on drugs swelled to epic proportions. We can’t help to think of the tragic cycle described by Curtis in “Freddy’s Dead.” After asking, “Why can’t we brothers protect one another,” he describes another “Freddy on the corner now.”
We’re taking a break from our month-long bonanza of Christmas records to post the last video in our series co-produced with Pabst Twin Cities. We saved Mary Allen and the Percolators for last because it wouldn’t be fair if someone had to follow this band. Here they are performing “Teenage Girls” in a video directed by Dan Huiting, edited by Lauren Josephine and mixed by Brian Herb of Mother of All Music.
If you follow the Youtube link, you’ll see that we have finally created a Hymie’s Records channel and you can watch ten videos from our series, with more to be added soon.
On Record Store Day we will be releasing a compilation LP of these recordings, which will include a DVD! Thanks to our good friend Craig Drehmel from Pabst Twin Cities for all his work on this amazing collaboration, which has brought together so many of our favorite local artists!
Irene loves coming to the record store every day, but like most older dogs she does not love walking in the snow anymore. Our puppy, on the other hand, couldn’t love it more. She’s a boxer, which according to our veterinarian at the East Lake Animal Clinic, are “the clowns of the dog world.” Watching our kids throw snowballs to her during this morning’s snowfall, we quickly understood why.
And what a perfect morning to tell you about this upcoming album from local composer Paul Fonfara, The Seven Secrets of Snow. While we might have a hard time explaining exactly which genre it would fit into in our otherwise organized shop, we are quite certain it is one of our favorite albums of the year.
Fonfara was commissioned to provide material for a documentary about the Russian clown, Slava Polunin, whose theatrical productions are legendary (check out this trailer for Slava’s Snowshow). Andrew Douglas, the London filmmaker who directed a documentary about Jim White, Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, did not finish the film about Slava, but Fonfara’s songs survived in the form of this new disc. It will be debuted on Saturday with a performance at the Cedar Cultural Center, along with a short film to accompany each song and stunning visual art by the incomparable Whitney A. Streeter.
We are here on the Hymie’s blog are well-known to know very little about cinema, but to have omnivorous taste when it comes to records. The Seven Secrets of Snow is a captivating amalgam of jazz, carnival music, Eastern European folk, and chamber music. One will not be surprised to find members of the Poor Nobodys, Dreamland Faces, the Bookhouse Trio and the Brass Messengers amidst the cast assembled by Fonfara for the production. Each of these collaborative groups has years of experience creating works which combine theater, film, or other media far beyond your turntable with the music. The songs are alternately ideal music for dancing (this reflecting Fonfara’s work with the Brass Messengers) and introspection (drawing from Dreamland Faces and the Poor Nobodys). While driven in two directions, Fonfara’s imaginative songs compliment one another well, as for instance do Van Gogh’s various paintings to feature snow-covered settings.
While The Seven Secrets of Snow is not explicitly a jazz album, it fits snugly alongside several of our favorites from the 90s and early 00s, an under-appreciated period of innovation in the genre. “Tar Sands,” for instance, reminds us of Bill Frisell’s album The Intercontinentals, for its incorporation of a traditional folk motif and modern jazz in an arrangement which slowly builds tension. Fonfara is featured on the clarinet throughout the album, and is as agile at shifting styles as Don Byron, whose 1996 album Bug Music also came to mind. A highlight of that disc was Byron’s interpretation of several songs by Raymond Scott famous for their frequent appearances in Looney Tunes. Scott’s “Powerhouse” is, without a doubt, one of the most inspired themes in search of a movie (to paraphrase Charles Stepney) and found its home when the composer sold his catalog to Warner Brothers in 1943. His songs have since been licensed for other cartoons, including the Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy and, naturally, the Animaniacs. To draw an interesting parallel to Fonfara’s Seven Secrets of Snow, Raymond Scott once recorded an album with an all-star band credited only to “The Secret Seven.”
And likewise, while The Seven Secrets of Snow is not explicitly an album of chamber music, there are passages which could have come from Prokofiev’s film scores for Lieutenant Kije and Alexander Nevsky or, from a melodic point of view, the late quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich. Fonfara is allowed wide freedoms in his arrangements due to the exceptional talent of the musicians he has conscripted. Few composers, for instance, have the luxury of writing for the singing saw, because they are not fortunate enough to work with Dreamland Faces’ Andy McCormick (the instrument was featured in Krzstztof Penderecki’s surreal comic opera, Ubu Rex and in the score to One Flew Over the Cuckoo‘s Nest by Jack Nitzche). Fonfara’s friendships benefit us listeners, because the arrangements are performed with precision and enthusiastic energy.
Each song is set to a film, which will be presented along with the performance on Saturday at the Cedar. Like Slava Polunin’s productions, they would appear to each be montages presenting ruminations centered around the themes of natural beauty and mortality. We have not seen all of the films and so instead have created our own imagery.
The title track — like Prokofiev’s “Troika” from Lieutenant Kije or Claude Thornhill’s “Snowfall” — invokes a morning much like today’s here in Minneapolis. And this reminds us we need to shovel in front of the shop once more before its time to open. We hope you’ll enjoy these songs from Paul Fonfara’s new album. If you are like us a fan and want to take a closer look, there is a Kickstarter page to fund the disc’s recording and production, and while it’s contrary to our general discomfort with crowd-funding, on the subject we’ll plug our noses and offer the link here. You could likewise support this project by going to Saturday’s show at the Cedar. We are certainly looking forward to it!
Paul Fonfara and the Ipsifendus Orchestra will perform the songs from The Seven Secrets of Snow, accompanied by the films, on Saturday December 5th at the Cedar Cultural Center. Also performing will be the Brass Messengers and the one and only Jim White. Details on the Cedar’s site here.
Tonight is a second show here at Hymie’s for punk favorites Kitten Forever and a first for OAKS, the Minneapolis duo who released their first full-length record with Modern Radio Record Label earlier this year. Animal Life‘s eight tracks are weightier than our usual impression of two-member bands, to the extent we’re impressed by the inventiveness of bassist Jim Kolles and guitarist Erica Krumm.
When we first heard the album, we thought of Lou Reed’s famous remark about songwriting: “One chord is fine. Two chords and you’re pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.” The best of its drum-machine driven minimalist jams fall somewhere in between post-punk goth and the Stooges. A standout is “List for the Desert,” a song which proffers the pop potential of minimalism and approaches the quality of classics like Closer and Bauhaus’ Flat Field.
Animal Life‘s dark themes are discordant with what we’d expect having come to know Krumm and Kolles through the record shop as compassionate and active supporters of the local music community, and folks we’d describe as sincerely sunny and sanguine. Perhaps this is a testament to the cathartic quality of songwriting. There’s a moony-eyed sentimentality to “West,” which was released as a video in August, and the album ends with what we’re taking to be a positive message in “Soft One,” with the rhythmic lyric “today the sun is higher” reminding us the harsh seasons of winter always come to an end. The melody repeats itself and the album fades into a cacophony of dwindling feedback.
If you’re not familiar with Kitten Forever, but you’re a fan of feminist-leaning punk rock, you’ll enjoy this endearing documentary about the trio produced by The Lowertown Line earlier this year. They’re an awesome band and always a great live act, so yep tonight’s show in the shop will likely be crowded!
OAKS and Kitten Forever will perform here at Hymie’s at 7pm tonight. As always, this is a free and all ages show. Both groups will have merch for sale, though. And their records are gooood!