There is a theory within evolutionary anthropology which posits that human language evolved from music, and that our earliest spoken communications were derived of songs imitating the sounds of the natural world around us. Darwin proposed this in The Descent of Man in 1871, although the idea was slow to gain traction or merit research.
One remarkable implication of this remarkable idea is that music may be one of our deepest connections to the natural world, and the most direct and genuine expression of our thoughts and emotions, transcending language.
Music has long played a central role in our ceremonial, civic and social rituals, and on a daily basis provides us a respite from those trappings which isolate us from our more primitive role in the natural world.
Pharoah Sanders’ 1969 album Jewels of Thought was on our turntable this cool morning, before we ventured out to get muddy cleaning up the garden after last night’s storm. The first song, “Hum Allah Hum Allah Hum Allah,” is a prayer for peace sung by Leon Thomas, whose collaboration with Pharoah is best known by “The Creator Has a Master Plan” on Pharoah’s previous album, Karma. The band on this album is a particularly impressive assemblage of top jazz musicians.
Thomas’ prayer for peace is performed by sextet of Christians and Muslims together. There are two bassist and two drummers: Richard Davis, Cecil McBee, Idris Muhammad and Roy Haynes, who are all favorites of jazz fans. The pianist is Lonnie Liston Smith, who co-wrote the music with Sanders.
There is a rich history of racial unity in jazz. Imperfect at times, it is more often inspiring. The seven performers on Jewels of Thought all performed and recorded with white jazz musicians as well. Our favorite of Pharoah’s many albums (Sprits, recorded in 2000) has him backed by two percussionists, one black and one white. And Richard Davis performance on Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, probably one of the white-est records of the era, is a classic collaboration.
Less often discussed is the role of jazz on the vanguard of religious unity. There are many Muslim jazz musicians who are some of the most successful and popular, such as Ahmad Jamal who we posted on Monday. Your record collection is just another way in which Muslim have contributed to this country.
We have always been fans of Ahmad Jamal, which is why he turns up on the Hymies blog fairly often (recently here). He is certainly one of the most successful small combo pianists in the world of jazz. His catalog of seventy-five or so albums rarely steps outside of the trio format, and just as rarely does he record with electric instruments.
The only thing we like more than the opening track on this 1976 album from his years at 20th Century is the dapper suit he his wearing on the cover.
On the song “Handicapper” Jamal is joined by guitarist Calvin Keys, who is one of the few musicians to join Jamal’s trio for more than a few recordings. Keys was a successful side-man but also released a few albums for the Black Jazz label which have recently come back into print.
Jamal’s occasional jaunts on the Fender Rhodes electric keyboard are some of our favorites of his albums. Notable is his performance at the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival, which was split over two albums (Freeflight and Outertimeinnerspace), which is one of his first electric performances.
Tonight, Piñata Records presents the vinyl reissue of Dealer by Red Daughters, a band whose first album received a review which used the words “ballsy” and “countrified” not only in the same sentence but in succesion (that’s some ballsy writing!), and also a band commonly called “down home” and compared to The Band. (You can find details about the show at the Uptown VFW below or here on Facebook)
With empathy to a writer’s impulse to offer a more or less universal touchpoint, we don’t think being a little seventies steeped really defines the Daughters, even though we’d love to hear their take on a chestnut like “When You Awake.” There’s a level on which its easy to understand how something undeniably very contemporary could be so quickly described as derived from a group whose debut is now almost exactly forty-two years old, but on a second level its frustrating because, again, forty-two years old. We’ll venture not a member of the Red Daughters was even a twinkle in an eye when Music From Big Pink became a sleeper success in 1968, and that all five of them have listened to something else since the fall of ’98, which was the last time the Band released a new album.
Like any band in the Piñata Records catalog, there’s retro in Red Daughters, but also an original approach to the sound of an era. Here, Southside Desire’s “littered alleyways of south Minneapolis” are replaced by the ramblers and water towers of Coon Rapids, and we think the gaze backwards is a good deal less distant. Dealer is the 90s alt-country album you’ve been looking for. The lyrics are better than the best Old 97s songs, the arrangements are miles more inventive than anything the Bottle Rockets recorded, and unlike every Wilco album there’s not a moment that’s so wrenchingly awful you have to move the needle.
The sound of that era’s indie country is ripe for reinvention. It, too, has roots in the early 70s but also the reverberating post-punk explorations of the Mekons, the Meat Puppets, American Music Club, or a dozen other bands. Few of those bands held fast to the 70s emphasis on vocal harmony (sang Ryan Adams on some Whiskeytown record, “So I started this country band, because punk rock was too hard to sing”) and here’s where Red Daughters offer something entirely new. Where Brewer & Shipley or Bad Company harmonized like hell, arrangements so rich were left at a rest stop somewhere along country-rock’s journey to be discovered by the Daugthers. We can’t think of another recent record along these lines which uses ensemble vocal for such stunning pop hooks (“Big Love”) or dramatic effect (“Protest” or “War Nam Nikhada”).
And the keys which cause those comparisons to the Band (in our estimation) are so tactfully employed. There’s no “Chest Fever” moment on Dealer, though no doubt Hix is up to the task. The same for the guitarists, Charles Murlowski and Ryan Zickermann. Red Daughters’ jam band sound doesn’t translate to extended introspection. Instead there’s some Old 97s-ish riffs, like the opening of “In Love Without You” and some inventive lead/rhythm counterpoints throughout. The brilliant solo on “Black Ice” is a bright spot, re-appropriating the sound Nils Cline brought to Wilco. “Protest,” meanwhile, recalls the epic rural gloom of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club without extending to ceremonial drama. Remarkably, while nearly all eleven tunes sound like they could be extended to “Dark Star” territory, they are strikingly concise, adding to the album’s captivating appeal. There’s no doubt this distillation of the Daughters’ distinct sound is in part owed to the unique approach of producer and engineer Jacques Wait, who reliably gets the best out of bands which need that sort of focus.
You can, incidentally, hear the entire album and order copies if you’re out of town, on Red Daughters’ Bandcamp page here.
We’ve always written that it doesn’t matter the format music is released, but rather what is heard after you drop the needle, press play or command the palace minstrels to perform (this last is less common than the others). Still, there is something very special about the long-playing record. We’ve held the word “album” over from the time 78s were collected in bound albums the same way we once kept our photographs, and the good ones still tell a story or paint a picture. Dealer is one damn great album, due a release on vinyl and overdue praise. This is why people collect records.
Red Daughters have a show tonight to celebrate the re-release of their album Dealer on vinyl tonight at the James Ballentine “Uptown” VFW tonight. Opening is Black Market Brass, who are themselves one of the most must-see bands in the Twin Cities. Details for the show can be found on Facebook here.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Shoot. Somebody bought this album right away, so we didn’t record a track for you. The people who bought it looked like this.
And we saved the best for last. We’ve also recorded the entire album for you…
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.
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.”
It’s good to have some classical music in your collection.
In fact, we feel every record collector should own at least a dozen classical albums, and ideally more. Us Gen Xers grew up during the music’s decline in popularity and appreciation. Our parents generation enjoyed classical music, and watched Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein introduce pieces on television.
We saw music programs eliminated when we went to school (and we are fortunate today, here in Minneapolis, that they have been reinstated). As with many other forms of music, people don’t enjoy western classical music because they don’t have a point of entry to begin to appreciate it.
Here’s an example which we think about from time to time: some years ago we bought a collection from someone who lived in one of those enormous houses on the lakes. In the basement there was a luxurious home theater, which included an elaborate sound system. The owner wished to make more room for his collection of movies (we have never seen so many DVDs in all our lives) and planned to sell the collection of audiophile albums he had impulsively purchased. There were half-speed mastered collections of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Sinatra, and so on. There were also deluxe editions of jazz standards like Kind of Blue, and he was more than happy to demonstrate the extraordinary sound quality of his $8000 stereo system.
But in all of this there was only a single classical album, the Funk & Wagnall’s Family Library of Great Music edition of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Not a particularly great performance or recording at all. We never understand how someone could have such interest in the sound of his records, but so little interest in discovering a wide world of new music to hear.
Schubert’s life story should be a Netflix documentary about an unappreciated genius, whose talents were recognized only after his untimely passing.
Franz Schubert died on November 19, 1828, at the age of thirty-one, following an extended illness which marred the frantic late years of his short life. Although we cannot be certain, it is likely Schubert suffered from syphilis, and was either killed by the venereal disease itself, or the backwards treatments common to the time. Schubert was hardly as vibrant a character as Mozart, who lived but four years longer, and his story would not be as ribald as Amadeus, but it would still be a similar portrait of an extraordinary musician who left this Earth entirely too quickly.
Throughout his tumultuous professional life Schubert was shockingly prolific — composing well over five hundred songs, seven symphonies (and several famously “Unfinished”), as well as operas, overtures and s stunning collection of chamber works. All of this was largely lost on his contemporaries until long after his death, as Schubert’s music was scantly published and rarely performed in public.
His brother Ferdinand and other friends held onto his scores after his death, but they were slow to publish them. It was a decade before his Symphony no. 9 in C Major (“The Great”) was debuted, and decades more before the same for the Symphony no. 8 in B Minor (“Unfinished”) — this second launching his rise to the echelon of western composers.
The now nearly universal praise for Schubert’s chamber works is, in our opinion, the longest overdue. Schubert’s mastery of lieder (songs) won widespread praise well before the works by which he may, today, be held in the highest esteem. His Piano Quintet in A Major (“The Trout Quintet”) is one of the most widely recorded chamber works in the classical repertoire and a concert favorite around the world, as are the C and D Minor Quartets. This second is his celebrated “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.
In addition to being largely unperformed and unpublished, Schubert’s romantic ambitions appears to have been just as unfulfilled. He is widely believed to have been a homosexual, in part because for all his intimate letters to male friends, not a single love letter to a women has survived. His orientation may have driven him further into small insular circles, like the music societies which supported his music or the casual court of his friend Franz von Schober, an actor (often of women), poet and bon vivant, whose enthusiasms extended to then-exotic orientalism and homosexuality. There seems to be no great love or acceptance found in Schubert’s short life.
So shy was Schubert that it’s said he couldn’t find the courage to introduce himself to his hero, Ludwig van Beethoven, when they passed one another on the streets of Vienna. Their first meeting in 1822 went terribly for the younger composer, although Beethoven expressed great admiration for Schubert on his deathbed. These would probably be pretty big scenes in the movie. It’s too bad we can’t get Sebastian Cabot to play Beethoven (see: Tuesday’s post).
Schubert was underground music.
His String Quartet in D Minor was debuted at a house show in January 1826 with the composer himself playing the viola. It was performed perhaps only once again while he was alive, and not published until three years after his death.
Remarkably, the debut for most of his works took place in private residences, house shows hosted by supporters or musical societies. Only once in Schubert’s life, on the 26th of March, 1828, six short months before his death, was there a public performance with the program being entirely his music. This rare professional triumph afforded him the opportunity to buy a piano.
Always regarded as a natural talent (one early teacher said, “he has learnt everything from God, that boy”), the spontaneity of Schubert’s inspiration is the stuff of legend. Some songs were said to have been written on the back of napkins in coffee houses and taverns. In one year he wrote 145 songs.
Schubert’s outsider status is cemented by his belated recognition of a musical form previously on the outskirts of legitimate composition. His body of lieder (songs) is a cornerstone of the form, which dates to medieval German traditions, but becomes something entirely different after the publication of Schubert’s nearly 600 songs, some written in cycles that we might think of as like concept albums today. He excelled in other forms, but in this he exceeded even Beethoven in his unique mastery of a marriage between words and music.
Some of Schubert’s outsider status may be the stuff of legend. For instance, a letter once found its way to him addressed only with: “Franz Schubert, famous composer of Vienna.” Still, so much of his music remained unknown even into the modern era. A century after Schubert’s death, Rachmaninov expressed shock to learn he had even composed piano sonatas. Today they are considered some of the finest of the late romantic era. And our favorite work for solo piano, his Moment Musicaux, was basically unknown into the same period.
Schubert was aware he was dying when he composed the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.
Returning to the theme of Schubert’s life being like a “behind the music” tragedy, he was well aware his life would surely be even shorter than Mozart’s. Surviving letters suggest he was preoccupied with his rapidly declining health, and many symptoms he describes suggest mercury poisoning (mercury was a common, fatally flawed treatment for syphilis at the time). He likely suffered a great deal during his last months, and it is remarkable he continued to compose.
Many of his song cycles dealt not with the traditional themes of adventure or romance, but of spiritual journeys. It is from one of these, a 1817 song, that he drew the melody of the quartet’s Andante, and from which the later work subsequently earned its name. The song finds a young maiden pleading with death to pass her by. “I am still young, go rather / and do not touch me,” she sings (this is an English translation). In the duet for piano and voice, death assure her he is “a friend, and come[s] not to punish.”
It’s remarkable this and other heartbreaking works were composed in the same mind as the bright and cheerful Trout Quintet. Schubert had an innate ability to express emotion, making his chamber works an excellent introduction for people unfamiliar with most classical music. Ironically, the outsider is in many ways the most accessible.
Five days before his death, friends arranged for a final performance, and Schubert requested to hear Beethoven’s 14th Quartet. A friend remarked that the king of harmony ha[d] sent the king of song a friendly bidding to the crossing.”
We knew a guy who went to college in Appleton, Wisconsin, and had a chance to visit there a few times. There’s really no short route from the Twin Cities to Appleton, but at the time (nearly twenty years ago) there were a couple good record stores there which made for a nice reward. Also there were some good diners along the way.
We really like this single by Dusk, a country-rock band from Appleton. The A-side is a straight ahead rocker fit for the neighborhood bar, and the B-side a little more in the direction of Gram Parson’s “cosmic American music.” Both songs are filtered through the Uncle Tupelo school of country-rock for your pleasure.
The single was released by Minneapolis’ own Forward Records. We’re hoping this suggests the band might be invited to play a show here in town this summer. We’d love to hear a whole set.