shirts 2You might know her as the silent, shamanistic Norma on Orange is the New Black, but actress Annie Golden started her professional career as the lead singer of the Shirts. For a few years they were a regular act at CBGB’s, often opening for acts like Television and the Talking Heads. Peter Gabriel asked the Shirts along as an opener on his 1978 tour supporting his second solo album.

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Capitol Records passed on the Shirts when other labels were scooping up rock acts from New York’s scene, but they ended up releasing the band’s debut LP anyway because UK-based EMI took up the band and Capitol was their American subsidiary. Here’s the first track from their self-titled debut album.

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“Reduced to Whisper”

In all the band made three albums before hanging it up in 1981. They also had a great track on the Live at CBGB’s compilation LP in 1976. At their best the Shirts were a bridge between the stripped aggression of punk rock which people usually associate with the legendary club (and bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith Group or the Dead Boys) and the radio-friendly power pop of the mid 70s. Several songs on The Shirts aren’t really much removed from the art rock of the Talking Heads’ debut.

Several members reformed the band in the 00s, but Golden did not join them. She had been part of the New York duo Golden Carillo, but but spent more time as an actress. Golden played the thick-accented cab driver in 12 Monkeys and a tooth fairy on a television commercial. As Norma Romano on Orange is the New Black, she was given, with the rest of the cast, a Screen Actor’s Guild Award this year.

The second album is where push comes to shove, where you have to prove what you can really do. The Chinese say its time to “break the kettles and sink the boats,” literally do or die time at the Battle of Julu in the second century BC as recalled to this day in that phrase. And it might be, as it was for the army of the Chu and Xiang Ju, a turning of the tide.

These days a working band who wishes to write, work and record will find its members making enormous sacrifices, often placing that second project as a priority over the other things one ought be doing with their twenties. Maybe this is why so many bands never make a second album and why those who do develop greater depth and substance in the process.

Black Diet’s debut, Find Your Tambourine, wasn’t recalled with much enthusiasm by the group in Zack McCormack’s great Gimme Noise story about them this week, but its a disc we still put on pretty often here at Hymie’s. Yes, it feels a little like a merch table “rush job” and we recall members telling us about the challenge of coalescing what was then a fairly fresh band. We wish Tambourine were a little longer and sounded like less of a hodge podge, but we still placed it on our list of favorites of the year.

black diet good oneTambourine‘s true weakness implies Black Diet’s innate strength: the disc didn’t translate their stage presence with much success. Here’s a group who could explode into a celebration of pop so perfect you’d swear you’d heard it before the first time you saw them, and moments later smolder with soul so sweet you’d like to learn every word.

With The Good One, their second album out this weekend, we can finally welcome these moments into our living rooms or our earbuds. Here is what every band wants their second album to be, the turning of the tide which realizes all that yet untapped potential.

The Black Diet of The Good One is a world away from the band on their first single (which we debuted here just over two years ago). The disc is distinctly darker, helping the band effect a modern interpretation of the Stax Studio sound on “Brother” and “Do A Little Wrong,” while also exploring new wave with equal enthusiasm. Where these two impulses meet The Good One touches on magic. True to Piñata Records’ solid tradition, these retro leanings hardly define the album, as they’re blended and then pressed through a modern sieve. This is what keeps Black Diet connected to label-mates Southside Desire, who released their exceptional sophomore album last year. The Good One also often reminds us of one of our favorite albums of all time, Lambchop’s Nixon, which likewise revived retro leanings with enthusiasm and sincerity.

Black Diet sounds far more collaborative on The Good One, which allows for shining moments for percussionist David Tullis (especially in “Fever” and “The Last Person on Earth”) and Sean Schultz, who’s usual supporting role on organ gets a spotlight in “Loving Me Still” in the album’s most joyous solo. The band includes members of other local favorites we have posted here recently, including Black Market Brass (playing live at Hymie’s here) and What Tyrants (whose No Luck is so far our favorite album of the year). Tolliver still reminds us of a tougher Aaron Neville, but his range and expressiveness in The Good One is enormously expanded. There are stunning moment in “Find a New Love” where we realize how much he can sound like H.R., even if Black Diet is worlds apart from Bad Brains. There are also moments where Tolliver has the touching, earthy delivery of Bill Withers (even phrasing “I know, I know…” like Withers did in “Ain’t no Sunshine”). His interactions with backing vocalist Mugsy feel less forced than on Find Your Tambourine. consistently natural and moving (check out “Puddle Jumpers” for a sense of the band’s smoldering soul potential).

Black Diet’s increasingly independent sound is often founded on just the right touches by the lead guitar. We singled out guitarist Mitchell Sigurdson when we wrote about Tambourine last year, and on this album he is all the more inventive while also supportive of his bandmates. This is one of the things which separates Black Diet from other retro-soul acts.

So many things, in fact, distinguish Black Diet, we’re glad they’ve made the commitment to continue collaborating. their dynamism was on display when they released Find Your Tambourine here at our 2014 Record Store Day Block party and Tolliver turned trickling rain into theatrics by hopping from the stage to dance with a little boy in the crowd (Radio K photographer Shannon Glenn captured the moment here). The sextet’s capacity to captivate crowds along with back-to-back “best new band” wins (well deserved, we’d say) placed a lot of pressure on them to break after releasing an album, rather than break up, as it seemed for a while. With their second album they’ve lived up to every expectation.

The release show for The Good One by Black Diet is tomorrow, July 24th at First Avenue. Also performing are Southside Desire, Bloodshot Records’ distinctive soul act JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, and the uniquely Minnesotan country-rock Red Daughters. Details here.

The Hymie’s blog is taking a couple days off for a camping trip with the kids. While we’re gone we’re posting a few favorites from the past with woodsy themes. This post from a couple years back features two versions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, as well as a link to third.

A few people have pointed out we post a lot of records which were intended for children. Some are ironically adult-themed or weird, and some are just awesome to listeners of all ages. We listened to a lot of records as a kid, and we still feel like kids when we listen to them now – working here doesn’t make us feel like a kid in a candy store, it makes me feel like a kid in a record store!

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(“Jack and the Beanstalk”)

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(“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”)

These 78s by Al “Jazzbo” Collins was one our kids really dug, to use hip vernacular. They were into it, man. We don’t know if they knew what to make of it, but they wanted to hear it again and again, baby.

Collins was a disc jockey back when working at a radio station had something to do with music. He hosted a few TV shows over the years, too, including “Jazzbeaux’z Rehearsal”, which featured boiled egg spinning contests. For a short period of time (in between Steve Allen and Jack Parr) he was the host of the Tonight Show – someday that fact is going to come up in bar trivia and you’re going to look like a freakin’ genius, all thanks to the Hymie’s blog.

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(“The Three Little Pigs”)

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(“Little Red Riding Hood”)

Last week we posted some saucy 50s 45s, including “Stop Whistling Wolf” by Eve Boswell (check it here, yo). There’s a cookin’ rockabilly version of the same some by the Maddox Brothers & Sister Rose, but don’t check Hymie’s for it – we already did and we haven’t got a copy. Little Red Riding Hood songs are a lot of fun – the most famous, of course, is by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Another favorite of ours is by the totally underrated 90s punkabilly group the Gr’ups:

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(“Red Riding Hood”)

We probably shouldn’t, but we play that record when the kids are around – what a great band! No Idea recently reissued a compilation LP called A Li’l Lost 1992-1994, which I enthusiastically recommend and would be thrilled to special order for you.

A record we haven’t played for my kids is George Carlin’s Toledo Windowbox, a comedy album with a charming before/after jacket (already post on the blog here) and a lot of drug humor (it is, after all, the album on which Carlin describes his work as “Goofy Shit”). Here is his interpretation of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – it kind of sums up things up for today:

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The Hymie’s blog is taking a couple days off while we’re camping with the kids. To fill the time we’ve been looking for posts about the woods and forests and woodland creatures from the archive. This post from 2013 featured the second part of Charles Lloyd’s “Forest Flower,” an evocative jazz piece which features an innovative performance on the piano.

Yesterday’s post introduced the music of Henry Cowell, a 20th century composer who pushed the boundaries of classical piano. The percussive piece “Tides of Manaunaun” was one direction in which he worked, and another was featured in the unique song “The Banshee.”

Cowell called compositions like this “string piano” because the performer must directly manipulate the strings inside the piano. He was probably not the first composer to explore this idea but his pieces were the most influential, leading to works for the “prepared piano” such as those popularized by John Cage.

Before discovering Cowell’s music on the LP featured yesterday, we had only heard a pianist play the strings directly on the 1966 live album by the Charles Lloyd Quartet Forest Flower. Near the end of the extended (16 plus minutes!) title track, Keith Jarrett works his way up to the highest keys in the piano before touching the strings. We believe he is dampening the string with a finger and then striking a key. It’s a very beautiful performance.

forest flower

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“Forest Flower” part two

The rest of “Forest Flower” is equally moving, and features a remarkable young band in Lloyd (saxophone), Jarrett (piano, in his second recording), Cecil McBee (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). Jarrett had met DeJohnette while playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and the two fell in like kindred spirits, eventually recording together dozens of times. Forest Flower was one of the most successful jazz LPs of the middle sixties and, unexpectedly, a favorite of rock fans. The Charles Lloyd Quartet was the first jazz group to play the Filmore.

After a few more albums with Lloyd’s group, including one recorded at the Filmore, Jarrett left to play electric piano with Miles Davis’ fusion group, appearing on several albums and on studio sessions more recently issued on CD. His last Atlantic recordings and his career at ECM includes many pieces related to the spiritual soul jazz he played with Lloyd. Whether Jarrett was directly influenced by Henry Cowell is hard to say, but it seems likely he’s heard the same Folkways recording you see above at some point.

One thing for sure is that at some point young Henry and young Keith were playing the family piano and opened it up to see how it worked inside. When they went to touch the strings their parents or their piano teacher didn’t scold them for being naughty. They were encouraged instead to explore the instrument.

The Hymie’s blog is taking a couple days off to go camping with the kids. We’ll return to our regular programming on Thursday. Until then we found a few nature-themed posts from the past.

Here, from 2013, is a post about frogs…

Our three year old daughter is really into The Muppets’ Frog Prince album, which is getting a couple spins a day in our house. It’s actually an adapted soundtrack from a 1971 TV special produced by the Sesame Street crew, featuring (in some cases introducing) several Muppet mainstays, like Kermit’s nephew Robin and the delightful Sweetums. Nova doesn’t know there’s a video yet, so she put the album on her Fisher Price player nearly every day.

The Frog Prince is interesting in that it’s one of the very first times Kermit is identified as a frog. When you think about it, he could be all kinds of things, like a lizard, a salamander, or even … “a hoppy toad!” It’s also got a lot of frog jokes, like how they are disgusted by the idea of sleeping in a bed and wearing clothes, and how much they love the stagnant waters of their swamp.

So here is a playlist of songs for our little girl who loves frogs…

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(“Froggy Went a Courtin'” by Tex Ritter)

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(“Underwater” by the Frogmen)

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(“Foolish Frog” by Dave Van Ronk)

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(“Light Rain” by Taj Mahal)

and

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(“Bein’ Green” by Kermit the Frog)

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Loudon Wainwright III appeared in three episodes of MASH during its third season. We have always wished his good-natured, troubadour Captain Calvin Spalding, had remained part of the series. For Chrissake, we had to listen to Hawkeye’s boring therapist for years.

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You can find most of the third season of MASH on Youtube, but the three episodes are conspicuously missing. Maybe Wainwright’s attorney found out we were laughing to “There’s Nothing Like A Nurse” without residuals, or maybe he’s embarrassed of his TV past.

We’re assuming lots of you have a subscription to Netflix’s streaming service, so you can watch them if you’re big LWIII fans. The episodes are “There’s Nothing Like a Nurse,” “Rainbow Bridge” and “Big Mac.”

And now, if ever, is the time for “The Swimming Song.”

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north country shindig

Here are three tracks from this mid-70s country compilation featuring performers from the North Country Shindig, a regular revue hosted on Saturdays by the Cloquet Armory from 1973-1976.

It sure would be great to have a place like that to see genuine country music these days.

The album wasn’t actually recorded live, in spite of our title for this post. It appears to have been made at the ASI Studio.

Legendary producer David Z was the engineer, back when he was known as David Rivkin. He probably could have been just successful in the field of country music, considering he wrote on of our favorite Gram Parsons songs, “How Much I Lied,” and appears in the credits for a variety of privately-pressed country/folk albums here in Minnesota. Instead he became an influential part of the “Minneapolis sound” through his work with Prince.

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“Cotton Fields” by American Patchwork

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“Mama Tried” by Debi Mraz

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“I Believe in Music” by the Kettle River Ramblers

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