“Your friend is quite the mercenary, I wonder if he really cares about anything. Or anybody.”

-  Princess Leia

From the title to the last track, this new album by Dingus has a familiar sense of punk rock apathy, but Who Cares? is hardly the garden variety outing its cover implies — in fact, the album is a fine example of what a new and more dynamic pop punk could be.

dingus LP“I think, therefore I’m stupid,” sings bassist Jonathan Walters near the end of this hugely entertaining collection of songs by the trio he’s fronted since junior high school. “Epistemology” isn’t the best track on Who Cares? but it does encapsulate much of the over-wrought anxieties in the album with a strangely comforting mixture of mopey self-depreciation and unappreciated intellect.

And while Walters’ alternately hilarious and heavy lyrics are a highlight, what makes Who Cares? such a gem is the album’s stellar performances of superb arrangements. The first track really sets it up well, with a lot of energy and shades of 90s punk like NOFX or late-era Mr T Experience.

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“IROB”

Our favorite song on the album — one of our favorite local songs of the year so far — is “Positive QI,” a tune which could have come from Avenue Q. This theatrical number takes on the album’s themes with wit and an unrestrained desire to entertain, and it really succeeds in every way.

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“Positive QI”

In fact, what keeps up putting Who Cares? on the platter is how successfully its eleven tracks are separate from standard pop format and take on a Broadway-ish quality, both in Walters narratives and the band’s interplay. We’ve been writing for years that Sesame Street (specifically its musical directors Joe Raposo and Jeffrey Moss) are our generations Beatles and here’s some concrete proof. “Positive QI” and several other songs on Who Cares? are a product of the theatrical revival inspired by their music. Maybe Walters and crew found the Broadway approach through The Simpsons or South Park, but its still something you can trace back to Sesame Street. Our impression could be a stretch, but we hear a lot of the human pathos of theater music in this album — of course, two of our most favorite ever punk rock bands are Hickey and Schlong (whose adaptation of West Side Story was one of the most brilliant records of the 90s!). Punk rock just works well with musicals in a way other pop music doesn’t.

Another local band who really combine human pathos with pop punk well is Braver, whose short film Ghost Cop we posted a while back. Maybe Dingus should make a movie too.

Every groove of Who Cares? is still filled with catchy hooks, fist pumping moments (as in a track which tells the story of a Soviet soldier at the Battle of Kursk) and head-banging riffs. Dingus manage to transition from the turning point on the Eastern front to a story about a zombie family living “happily ever after,” complete with an Iron Maiden riff and an Elvira’s Movie Macabre flair, without anything seeming out of a place.

Walters, who plays bass, is joined by guitarist Sam Beer and drummer Parker Thompson. They’ve been playing together for so long that Walters’ songs seem to be written specifically to bring out their best, as in the way Duke Ellington said he didn’t write for a instrument but for a instrument as performed by a specific member of his orchestra. While we were introduced to Beer as a member of the blue collar Springsteen ♥ing Blue Diamond Band, he’s more inclined to indulge punk rock and metal tendencies in this setting. His best playing on the album is in the unforced melding of these two impulses, as on the album’s opener “IROB” and in “The Zombies.” Thompson isn’t for a moment behind the other two, in fact he has to hold together some of the more unusual transitions like the introduction to “The Zombies” or the hilarious middle eight in the frantic minute and a half of “Arbitrary Fantasy.” Walters delivers the best lines (like “the empty bottles fuck up this house’s feng shui”) much like the Mr. T Experience’s Dr. Frank — we’d rank him with Rob Taxpayer as the most entertaining frontman to perform here at Hymie’s.

Someone (who’d like to be anonymous) loves the band and told us, “It’s sad because they’re one of the best pop punk bands in the cities, and when I go to their shows there’s hardly anyone there.” It almost seems fitting for Walters’ lyrics, and for a band that’s written on their Bandcamp page: “We no longer believe ‘success’ means making tons of money. Rather, we now hold the notion that success means: not making money. Thus, we’re successful as fuck.” Our hope is that Who Cares? will be for Dingus what the Battle of Kursk was for the Soviets, the turning of the tide that maybe, just maybe, will change the entire world. Maybe that’s a lot of hope. We think too much.

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“Uncle Josh on a Bicycle” performed by Cal Stewart.

cal stewartThis was first released as a cylinder by the Columbia Phonograph Company between 1898 and 1900. It was reissued on a 78rpm record as we know them now by the Victor Talking Machine Company seven years later.

Oliver Nelson’s 1961 LP The Blues and the Abstract Truth is one of the most interesting jazz albums issued by Impulse Records during its fifteen year run. A remarkable all-star band is featured in the album, and several soloists are captured at transitional points in their career. In many ways the record is similar to the modal jazz established with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and two performers — bassist Paul Chambers and pianist Bill Evans — are heard on both records. Nelson’s compositions are far more complex than the rough head arrangements which formed the framework for Kind of Blue‘s five tracks, but the album explores the same slow-paced harmonic development.

oliver nelson

The opening tune, “Stolen Moments,” is sublime: although framed by an elaborate sixteen bar theme the song features four minor key solos on a basic 12-bar blues. Freddie Hubbard, who had just begun his transition out of hard bop into more progressive jazz (appearing on Coltrane’s first Impulse album and beginning a collaboration with Wayne Shorter the same year) performs a stunning solo. Nelson’s is, like his compositional style, cautiously paced and measured. We’ve always thought it felt pre-meditated — he does the same thing on the second side in “Teenie’s Blues.” Bill Evans is one of the most interesting personalities on the album, and his appearance is of interest because he so rarely after the early 60s performed in ensemble settings.

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“Stolen Moments”

Evans’ best contribution on the album is on the second side, in a faster blues tune called “Butch and Butch,” where he dances through several bars with a light Basie-eque grace. And the very best solo on the album is Dolphy’s alto sax solo in “Yearnin’,” which hints at the wild style he would perfect a few years later with his very best album, Out to Lunch.

Nelson makes “special mention of [the] fine work” of baritone saxophonist George Bowering in the album’s notes. Bowering does not solo, but his role is pretty essential to the arrangements, especially “Stolen Moments.” The album is a great collaborative work, considering the band didn’t play together before or after (although several members did often collaborate). Roy Haynes is fairly restrained throughout, especially compared to what he was recording with Roland Kirk around the same time, and bassist Paul Chambers is as awesome and reliable as expected — the contrast of styles between the rest is what makes The Blues and the Abstract Truth such an interesting album.

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“Yearnin'”

 

Nelson recorded a follow-up for Impulse three years later. It features a larger group, but less innovative arrangements. None of the performers (including Nelson himself) appear on More Blues and the Abstract Truth, which is sort of a disappointing sequel — the album has a Weekend at Bernies II quality in spite of all the talented musicians who perform on it.

 

Blue guitarist B.B. King passed away today at the age of eighty-nine in his home in Las Vegas. He will be remembered by countless fans and musicians as one of the most influential performers in the history of American music.

lucille LPWe think one of the most inspiring things about King’s life is how much he performed. Even into his seventies the “King of the blues” played 250 shows a year. Audiences could always be counted on to hear about his very special guitar, named Lucille. He often explained how the Gibson ES-355 “saved [his] life two or three times,” attributing extraordinary feats to the guitar.

The origin of the guitar’s name also provided an exciting story for King’s audiences: he would explain how he was playing in a hall in Arkansas in 1949 when a fight between two men knocked over the kerosene barrel which heated the room. After evacuating with everyone else, King ran back in to get his guitar, which had cost him thirty dollars. He was later told the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille.

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william grant still symphonyThis album has been in the ‘new arrivals’ bin for a week or so, and we’ve taken to starting our day with William Grant Still’s invigorating, inspiring first symphony.

Still is often called “the Dean of African-American composers” in the liner notes to album including his compositions — or the Dean of black composers or the Dean of negro composers, depending on when the record was produced. All of this places the composer and his more than 150 works into a tidy pigeonhole for the scholar and the historian, but does little for those of us who listen to music for enjoyment. William Grant Still was, surely, a pioneer — being the first African-American to have his symphonies and opera produced by major companies — but he was first and foremost an American composer. We do not regard Copland as an Anglo-American composer and we ought to afford Still the same respect, especially considering his music is a national treasure.

William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi but spent his youth in Little Rock, Arkansas, where his mother moved after the death of his father. Still’s step-father, Charles B. Shepperson, encouraged his interest in music by buying him records and taking him to performances. His grandmother taught him traditional spirituals. After graduating from a segregated high school, Still attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

Still enlisted in the United States Navy and served our country during the first World War. He resumed his studies after returning, for a time he was a student of Edgar Varèse. Still’s first professional work was with W.C. Handy’s orchestra, and later arranging James P. Johnson’s ambitious Yamecraw. His career as an arranger and performer provided him the opportunity to compose and the exposure to present his work — leading to his many “firsts” in African-American history: Still was the first African-American to conduct a major American orchestra (the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936) and also the first to have his own symphonic work performed (his Symphony no. 1 “Afro American” was debuted by the Rochester Symphony Orchestra in 1931). The third of his eight operas was the first to be performed by a major American company (The New York City Opera) in 1939.

william_grant_stillHis music implies an enormous range of influences, from Stravinsky to stride piano. Many of his compositions were about the African-American experience and many others about the wider American experience. Still’s song cycle And They Lynched Him On A Tree, first performed in 1940, is one of the most alarming condemnations of racial violence you’d ever find on record (if you can find one — record companies weren’t in a hurry to release such revolutionary recordings). The operatic work featuring a narrator and two choruses and is more courageously ‘punk rock’ or ‘street’ than anything we’ve ever heard.

His first symphony was first performed in 1931 and adds to the familiar orchestra a celeste and a tenor banjo. It’s composition was influenced by the short-lived poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, but is also remarkable for its combination of neo-classicism and evolving blues. It is just about the most uniquely American piece of music you’ll ever find.

Still lived, wrote and taught for a half-century after writing his first symphony. Our nation changed and our relations with each other changed enormously during those many years — sadly, there had been no revival of his music (at least Copland can claim composing the song for the dreadful “Beef — It’s What’s for Dinner” campaign). We think Still ought to be regarded as one of the great American composers, if only because his work so often integrated the music of everyone who settled in this country. His Symphony no. 1 “Afro American” is an excellent example of his ability to combine cultural influences.

One last thing about William Grant Still is of particular interest to record collectors: he served as the musical director for the Black Swan Phonograph Corporation, which was the first significant record label owned and operated by African-Americans. His colleagues in the record business included the great bandleader and arranger Fletcher Henderson, who often accompanied blues singers on recording sessions, and W.E.B. DuBois, who served on the label’s board of directors.

The label was named for the 19th century soprano Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, who was called “The Black Swan” by her fans. Black Swan 78s are fairly rare, but not unaffordable if you can find them. Ethel Waters was the top-selling singer on the label, and other performers include Alberta Hunter and Lucille Hegamin. Maybe you could find a copy at our favorite place to look for 78s, Vintage Music Company.

William Grant Still’s Symphony no. 1 “Afro-American” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1974, conducted by Paul Freeman:

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Moderato assai

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Adagio

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Animato

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Lento, con risoluzione

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“Naima” performed by the Turtle Island String Quartet

tisq

DSC07343Burt Bacharach is turning eighty-seven on Tuesday, and local guitarist Brian Peterson asked if he could come in and perform some of Bacharach’s many famous songs — so he’ll be here this evening at 5pm for your listening enjoyment. In the meantime, we had fun looking for some interesting recordings of his songs. Here’s the ones we chose:

story of my lifeThe Story of My Life

“The Story of my Life” was one of the first major successes for Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who had started writing songs together about a year earlier. The single by Marty Robbins reached #1 on Billboard’s country chart and #15 on the pop chart in 1957 — another version in England by Michael Holliday was also a #1 hit. Robbins later re-recorded the song for a 1970 album, and its title was used for a Columbia Legacy compilation disc.

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“Story of my Life” by Marty Robbins

DSC07346The Blob

Bacharach also wrote songs over the years with Hal’s brother, Mack. One of them was “The Blob” for the 1958 monster movie starring Steve McQueen. The silly song was recorded by a Los Angeles studio band led by Bernie Knee. The single by the Five Blobs was a surprise hit, reaching #33 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Folks in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania host an annual “Blobfest” which includes re-enactments and a photo opportunities at a facsimile of the basement of Chef’s Diner.

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“The Blob” by the Five Blobs

DSC07347Move it on the Backbeat

“Move it on the Backbeat” is another song Bacharach wrote with Mack David. The uncredited singers are the Gospelaires, an in-demand backing vocal group which including at that time Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick, as well as Cissy Houston.
You can also hear them singing on records by the Drifters, Dinah Washington, Ronnie Hawkins and on Doris Troy’s “Just One Look” (Troy was previously a member of the group). And of course “Move it on the Backbeat” was the beginning of a long collaboration between Bacharach and Dionne Warwick, who recorded dozens of Bacharach/David songs.

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“Move it on the Backbeat” by Burt and the Backbeats

casino royaleThe Look of Love

Casino Royale was the third soundtrack album Bacharach worked on. The title song was performed by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and Dusty Springfield sang the sultry, memorable tune “The Look of Love,” one of the most well-known Bacharach/David songs of all.

In the days before eBay and internet dealers, original stereo pressings of Casino Royale were one of the most sought-after albums for audiophiles. This is a result of the recording process, in which high-grade tape was used and heavily saturated to nearly the point of distortion, leading to extreme high and low ranges on playback. Our fairly worn mono copy is hardly a gem, but then again we’ve never really understood audiophiles anyways — they sure can take all the fun out of record collecting!

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“The Look of Love” by Dusty Springfield

DSC07344South American Getaway

Bacharach’s score to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of the records we’ve had in our collection for the longest. He received one of his three Academy Awards for the music, and the B.J. Thomas recording of “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on my Head” was a huge hit. The music fits the film magnificently, as in the montage scene where Butch, Sundance and Etta travel to Bolivia and this song is heard.

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“South American Getaway” by Burt Bacharach

smithBaby It’s You

Bacharach and Mack David wrote “Baby Its You” with Luther Dixon, who was the producer who established the Shirelles’ sound (he’s credited as Barney Williams on the single). It came out in the middle of their string of successful tunes for Scepter Records in the early sixties. The song was also a hit for the Beatles, and later an even bigger hit for Smith in 1968, which featured a full-throated delivery by singer Gayle McCormick.

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“Bqby Its You” by the Shirelles

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“Baby Its You” by Smith

DSC07352Trains and Boats and Planes

Originally titled Hit Maker!, the first album Bacharach issued under his own name didn’t feature his own voice. Instead listeners found lush, mostly instrumental arrangements of songs he and David had written for Warwick and others. A largely anonymous chorus sings some of the songs, including “Planes and Boats and Trains,” which was had minor success as a single in England.

Also among the anonymous contributors were Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, session musicians in their pre-Zeppelin days.

The album has been reissued many times over the years, most often as Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits.

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“Planes and Boats and Trains” by Burt Bacharach

DSC07351Walk on By

“Walk On By” was one of the many hits Bacharach and David wrote for Dionne Warwick in the sixties. The song’s woe-is-me narrative draws out a unique quality from nearly everyone who interprets it.

Isaac Hayes turned it into a bombastic, epic jam on his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul, and about ten years later the Stranglers recorded an equally over-long version driven by a plodding bass line and an extended organ solo. Shortly after that the Average White Band recorded a great, funky version on their album Feel No Fret. Its a song which has inspired many interpretation and many imitations, and is surely one of the most beloved Bacharach songs.

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“Walk on By” by Isaac Hayes

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“Walk on By” by the Stranglers

DSC07348

My Little Red Book

The lyrics of Hal David were often melodramatic and self-depreciating, which fit well with Bacharach’s style. We read an interview once where he described how the music should tell a story, just as the lyrics do.

Whether “My Little Red Book” was intended to reference the ubiquitous and famous Quotes from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, published the same year as the song, is as debatable as theories The Blob was an allegory for Soviet communism. The song was one of the first Bacharach and David wrote for a British pop band, probably connected to their continued chart success across the pond beginning with the cover of Marty Robbins’ “The Story of My Life.”

When Love recorded the song for their first album, guitarist Arthur Lee completely re-invented the chord changes, to the chagrin of Bacharach. Still, the song was a hit and has become a favorite of garage rock fans and guys who like to hang around record stores and talk about where punk rock was invented.

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“My Little Red Book” by Love

DSC07345I Say A Little Prayer

Several of the hits Bacharach and David wrote for Dionne Warwick became jazz standards, although his use of unusual chord progressions probably made it more complicated for performers. Stan Getz recorded an entire album of Bacharach/David songs in the seventies (What the World Needs Now Is Love), and Ahmad Jamal opened his 1968 album Tranquility (one of our favorites of his) with two of their songs: “I Say a Little Prayer” and “The Look of Love.”

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“I Say a Little Prayer” by Ahmad Jamal

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“The Look of Love” by Ahmad Jamal

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