It’s got to be hard to have the same name as somebody famous. We met a guy years ago (we are not making this up!) named Fred Kacyzinski. He was awful quick to mention he’d never been to Montana, never went to Harvard and had no problem with the mechanization of our lives caused by industrial society.

We once posted about “the other Ray Charles,” who was a successful arranger in the sixties, and whose name you’ll see on a lot of great pop records (usually billed as “The Ray Charles Singers”). By coincidence there was a successful figure in the same field he chose with the same name — the same thing happened to this guy, Johnny Mathis, who was a country songwriter with five hundred songs to his credit. When he was young he was half of the kinda-hip act Jimmy & Johnny, but as a solo act he always had to bill himself as “Country Johnny Mathis,” because of that other guy who was a lot more of a big seller. Still his songs were recorded by Ray Price, George Jones and Webb Pierce to name a few — he was really successful in his own world, and kept touring and playing all his life.

country johnny mathis

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“Welcome Home” by Country Johnny Mathis

kenton ritter

It seems to us like this project was thunk up by some executive at Capitol Records, seeing as how each was a top seller for the label. Ritter had a hit the year before covering Eddie Dean’s “Hillbilly Heaven,” and Kenton was on a roll: his adaptation of West Side Story had not only been a big seller, cleverly timed to coincide with the release of the movie, but it also earned the conductor his first Grammy.

In these years his over-sized orchestra included a four-piece mellophonium section (this being a modern adaptation of the mellophone, a marching band instrument with a sonority somewhere in between a trumpet and a trombone). This is the same period in which he produced his successful adaptation of Wagner, from which we posted a track a couple years ago. At its largest Kenton’s “Innovations in Modern Music Orchestra” had thirty-nine members! Kenton used a smaller version of his orchestra for the Tex Ritter album, but kept the mellophonium section. That’s one of them on the cover.

Its an interesting record — probably more rewarding for Tex Ritter’s fans than Kenton’s. Ritter’s rich voice is especially well-framed in the ballads “Green Leaves of Summer” and “The Last Round Up,” but the uptempo singing cowboy stuff works as well. We were disappointed Kenton didn’t tackle “Blood on the Saddle,” one of Ritter’s most unique performances first recorded a couple years earlier. There is a fine version of the theme from High Noon, which is probably the most famous of all of Ritter’s songs. The track below was based on the 50s Brazilian film, O Cangaceiro. which was the first in a short-lived subgenre called “Nordesterns” (combining ‘Nordeste’ and ‘Western’).

Quoted in Dr. William F. Lee’s biography, Artistry in Rhythm, Kenton called the album “a dog.” Long out of print, and never issued on CD, its probably one of the rarest albums by either.

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“The Bandit of Brazil”

Here is a local band that’s been around for so long we’re surprised they haven’t recorded more. More than a half dozen years have passed since they released a full length disc, In the Winepress, and broke up for a while. By the time they first played here at Hymie’s a couple years ago, they’d recruited Matt Engelstadt as a new bass player and already started playing some of the songs on their new album, out this weekend, as well as a great tune they’d released on a split single with the Knotwells.

They’ve never sounded as good as on The Future Was a Long Time Ago, a great album a long time coming. This “little band from Minneapolis” has always had a charming punk rock-ish interpretation of country music, which is highlighted here with shorter, quicker arrangements and exceptionally catchy hooks. On In the Winepress, Jon Collins’ lyrics about drinking and disenfranchisement had been so dense you’d have to read along to follow them (and find your glasses to do that), these eleven new songs are cleverly concise, if still about the same subjects.

the future

The songs seem seeped in the working class worries of what we’re now calling the “Great Recession,” which for a lot of us didn’t really end when the guv’ment saved the banks. Or something. As cheerful as the band sounds, there’s an oppressive sense of dread just underneath the rollicking surface, probably best captured in the concise lament which lent itself to the album’s title:

When the past goes it leaves a big hole
The future was a long time ago

The album opens happily enough with “Salt and Ice,” the first of several songs to highlight dual lead vocals by Collins and fiddler Pamela Laizure. They’ve got a great chemistry here, which reminds us of our favorite songs by This Bike is a Pipe Bomb (one of which is “Of Chivalry and Romance in a Dumpster,” if you’re wondering) and the Gr’ups. Does anybody remember the Gr’ups? They were awesome.

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“Salt and Ice”

A few years ago the Brian Just Band told us we got it all wrong when we described their first disc as a “summer record,” and so we’ve avoided giving seasonal tags to albums. That said, it sure seems like The Future Was a Long Time ago is set in a Minnesota winter, from the romanticized “Salt and Ice” to the way bus windows fog up late at night. It also seems like the themes in Collins’ lyrics are connected to songs like Gil Scott-Heron’s “Winter in America.” Here it’s contemporary crises like the impact of foreclosures on neighborhoods like ours, and the failed evacuation of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, but like Scott-Heron did in the seventies, Collins pairs politics with personal experience. “Banks” is a particularly successful example of this.

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“Banks”

Classic country music and punk rock have a complicated past, a stormy relationship going all the way back to CBGB’s, which really isn’t so strange when you think about it: both often focus on the feelings of the disenfranchised, especially those oppressed by economic conditions. There’s not so much difference between Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and the tattered jeans Mike Ness wears with shame in Social Distortion’s “Story of my Life.” The dead man’s shirt in Chokecherry’s “Good Times (Are Over)” might end up on the same thrift store rack.

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“The Future Was a Long Time Ago”

Chokecherry sounds better than ever throughout the album, which was recorded by Matt Castore at his A Harder Commune Studio. Instead of the flat, lo-fi sound of lots of folk-punk bands (like, again, This Bike is a Pipe Bomb) they’re recorded and mixed the way you’d want a good ol’ fashioned punk rock album to sound. Drummer Chris Schuck, who has been with Collins and Laizure all along, sounds great, which you can tell just listening to “Salt and Ice” up above. And two tracks feature the one and only Ross Fellrath of Whiskey Jeff’s Beer Back Band on steel guitar. He adds a particularly countryfied atmosphere to the title track. One thing we especially love about the album is how Laizure’s fiddle sounds, sometimes very country as on that song, and other times heavy, in the style of the 90s English band the Levellers as on “Downtown Dogs.”

Last week we drank a beer for breakfast and wrote about Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy with a little wrought self-depreciation. Sometimes it feels like we’re just a few years from obsolescence — small business seems doomed in this country, especially something like a neighborhood record shop. All the while we’re not getting any younger, we know what Collins’ means when he sings about the cold wind and the “after-work bus with the windows fogged up, [when] you feel yourself growing older every day.” But that song doesn’t end with that gloomy image — instead Collins and Laizure remind us that “It’s alright.”

Chokecherry has two shows this weekend to celebrate the release of The Future Was a Long Time Ago. The first is at the Seward Cafe on Saturday night with an awesome bill of groups: Whiskey Jeff and the Beer Back Band, Diver Dress and Up the Mountain Down the Mountain. The second is Sunday afternoon here at Hymie’s, where they’ll be joined by Wisconsin folk musician Jake Duda. Every little detail you could ask for can be found here.

 

Its so heartbreaking for us when an awesome band just can’t raise the cash to press their album — especially when we know there’s thousands of this out there somewhere.

thesmurfslp

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“Smurfin’ All Over the World”

11-11-1953There’s an early Peanuts where Schroeder is caught “air-conducting” by the dog, and he walks away embarrassed. Ironically, he had nothing to be embarrassed about: while most of Snoopy’s subsequent adventures were imagined, Schroeder confidently delivered virtuoso performances of everything from Beethoven and Brahms to Schubert, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, all on a toy piano through efforts cartoonist Charles Schultz later admitted were “tedious” to draw.

Peanuts provided classical music its last front in the culture war. No famous figure in the big world of sequential art has so intimately entwined music into their work as sincerely as Schultz did for decades — Decades later when Bloom County revisited the same embarrassing scenarios, Steve Dallas is caught dancing to “Billy Jean” in the shower.

This brings us to Mystery Date, the Minneapolis trio who have a new LP out this week and are the most emulate-able band in the Twin Cities. Their songs are solid air guitar material. In fact, the only reason we haven’t jammed to their last single, “You And Your Sister,” is that its not on the radio when we’re showering. Seems like the best air-guitarin’ rock and roll you’re gonna get from the radio is the Knack, the Romantics, or Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

mystery date new noir

Mystery Date is the antidote to your anxiety nobody could create something new in the guitar/bass/drums form. The ten new songs on their second album, New Noir, are surprisingly clever and catchy. Tunes like “Foreign Affairs” are better rock and roll than anything we’ve heard on KQRS in a long time. The band has picked up a lot from obscure power pop records, as well as from some of our favorite punk rock bands like the Buzzcocks, whose sound they approach on “White City.”

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“Foreign Affairs”

New Noir has more hooks than a pirate convention — its actually hard to pick out the best track. The production is sharper than on their first album, Love Collector, especially for drummer Grady Appleton, whose parts positively boom. Check out the way he and bassist Steve Spettstazer launch into the first cut on the second side, “Wouldn’t You Like to Know.” Don’t mistake this album for garage rock or lo-fi anything.

This is the first 2015 release for Piñata Records, whose three full-lengths last year were some of the Twin Cities’ best. We’ve been praising this label’s fresh approach since their first record. They’ve been breathing new life into classic American pop music from psychedelic rock (Narco States) to rhythm and blues (Southside Desire and Black Diet). Mystery Date does the same for power pop. What we love about all these bands is that none of them sound “retro,” they’re just recording new songs in familiar styles.

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“Wouldn’t You Like to Know”

Lead singer Johnny Eggerman’s wry delivery is one of the best things about Mystery Date. There’s a sense of fun to all the songs on New Noir, which is a pretty essential element to good rock and roll. Because the band is a trio, there’s more pressure on Spettstazer, who rounds out the band’s arrangements really well, and also provides backing vocals. We’ve always loved songs written for a basic rock trio — one of our favorite bands of all time is the Jam, who are certainly an influence on Mystery Date. There’s a haiku-like simplicity to a good rock trio we find irresistible. We’ve been listening to New Noir a lot in the shop, and been caught a couple times air guitarin’ and singing along.

You can meet Mystery Date at the record release show for New Noir this Saturday at the Eagles Club #34 here in our neighborhood. Also playing are Teenage Stranglers and Vats.

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“Asiatic Flu” by Ebe Sneezer and his Epidemics

If you’ve had the flu recently, you probably won’t find this song as funny as the rest of us do.

asiatic flu

Oh Mercy

If you were to find yourself copies all of Bob Dylan’s studio and live albums (not to mention the eleven-volume Bootleg Series) you’d need a pretty big shelf for your collection of more than sixty records. There are probably a lot of complete collections here in the Twin Cities alone, and all over the world.

We don’t have a complete Dylan discography at home, but we do have a big shelf of his albums — and we’d have a hard time choosing a favorite. Dylan’s career has gone through so many different eras, and each has its highlights. When, for instance, the Bootleg Series presented outtakes from New Morning and Self Portrait a couple years ago, we we very excited — those are two of our favorites. We posted a couple tracks here at the time.

We’re also fans of his recent albums, especially Modern Times and Tempest, and of this 1989 record which is often described as one of his “comeback” albums.

oh mercy Dylan’s ’89 affair was not the only “comeback” of the era. The same was said of several baby boomer artists — Lou Reed’s New York and Neil Young’s Freedom, for instance, and whatever Paul McCartney released that year. Like the others, Dylan balanced fresh social commentary with introspection about aging. At the time, this was lost on Gen Xers like ourselves, who were more in tune with younger artists, but we’re seeing albums like Oh Mercy become more popular with our peers as we all grow into our own time for introspection.

Oh Mercy is otherwise very different from the back-to-basics of New York and Freedom, because Dylan chose to work with producer Daniel Lanois, who at the time was best known for his work on U2’s The Joshua Tree and Peter Gabriel’s So. The result is a lushly layered landscape never before heard on a Dylan album, and a very different approach to recording his voice.

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“Political World”

Oh Mercy is the first step towards the sound Dylan would embrace ten years later with Time out of Mind (also produced by Lanois) and the several albums since (all produced by Dylan himself). You can especially hear this sound evolving in “Most of the Time,” which treats Dylan’s trademark rasp as an advantage, rather than trying to hide its rough edges through mixing, as producers had done throughout the 80s. Its a shame the same technique wasn’t used on songs like “Brownsville Girl,” the epic track stranded in the middle of Knocked Out Loaded, one of the most disappointing Dylan albums.

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“Most of the Time”

The reason we’ve been listening to Oh Mercy lately is “Ring Them Bells,” a song which seems to fit nearly any era, but especially one in which horrible things like what happened in Paris last week are heartbreakingly commonplace. Lanois lays his reverberated guitar lower on this track, on which Dylan himself plays the piano. We’ve seen Dylan on nearly every visit to the Twin Cities since Oh Mercy, but haven’t ever heard him play this song.

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“Ring Them Bells”

Most of Oh Mercy is dark and desperate, like the next song, “The Man in the Long Black Coat.” This is the mood of most of Dylan’s recent albums. Unlike some other 60s icons, Dylan has aged with grace and a measure of dignity. That’s why he can appear in a lingerie ad without seeming like a dirty old man, and its one of the reasons we’ve stuck with him through the good albums and the bad albums.

Last year a local music blog ran an interview in which some kids described a new record store as the only one in town run by someone under fifty. It stung a little, since neither of us is near fifty yet, and we both feel pretty young even though we have the trappings of older folks: two kids, mortgage, nuanced non-dogmatic views, and yes, not the same faces we had at twenty. George Carlin once commented our thirties are hard because the whole world seems to be eighteen or forty-five.

On the other side of the album, Dylan says “there’s a whole lot of people tonight suffering from the disease of conceit,” and he’s right. And you can’t let that stuff get to you, because another great songwriter, Taylor Swift, is right:

Players gonna play play play
Haters gonna hate hate hate
Baby, I’m gonna shake shake shake
Shake it off

When he recorded Oh Mercy, Dylan still had some of his best work up ahead, and also some lean years where he admits in Chronicles Volume I the songs just didn’t come as easily as they once had. That’s why he recorded those couple albums of old folk songs. The one bright spot of his mid-90s output, “Dignity,” first first appeared on Greatest Hits Volume 3 and MTV Unplugged, but the song was actually an outtake from Oh Mercy.

Tolstoy was seventy-two when he wrote Resurrection, one of the best novels we can recall reading. There’s enough examples like that to fill a motivational poster. John Glenn was seventy-seven when he went into space. He went into fucking space!

And Colonel Sanders didn’t open the first Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was sixty-five. It’s true, look it up!

222px-The_Simpsons-Jeff_AlbertsonSo who knows, maybe we’ll grow old here at Hymie’s, so long as we’re all still having fun. Who knows what the record store be like in 2050? One thing’s for sure, we won’t be here if we start to look like the guy on the left. There’s a reason Bart and Milhouse despise him.

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“Shooting Star”

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