We enjoyed reading accounts of Sturgill Simpson’s appearance on the street outside the Country Music Association’s award ceremony in Nashville earlier this week. The singer, with his Grammy Award for “Best Country Album” in his guitar case, performed outside the gala and took questions from fans via Facebook Live.

Its a safe bet that Simpson was inspired to make the appearance after the CMA took heat earlier this month for issuing guidelines to journalists which prohibited asking questions about the mass shooting in Las Vegas, gun control or political affiliations. The warning, which threatened potential revocation of credentials, was rescinded in response to harsh criticism from artists and fans.

Nine time CMA host Brad Paisley criticized the ban before the event, but received a mixed reply from fans. He and co-host Carrie Underwood offered a tasteful tribute to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre, and their song parody schtick at the awards ceremony poked fun at politicians but hardly touched on actual issues of policy.

Simpson was less diplomatic in his appearance outside. Although he has never embraced the role of country music’s savior, many fans see him as the torchbearer of the tradition of anti-establishment icons such as Merle Haggard. Hag won a series of CMA awards in 1970, largely due to his jingoistic, eternally misunderstood song “Okie from Muskogee” but became something of an outsider owing to his anti-establishment bend.

Outside the CMA Awards this week, Simpson’s mock acceptance speech hit on several of the ‘third rail’ subjects entirely avoided by the country music establishment:

Nobody needs a machine gun, and that’s comin’ from a guy who owns quite a few guns,” Sturgill said. “Gay people should have the right to be happy and live their life any way they want to and get married if they want to without fear of getting drug down the road behind a pickup truck. Black people are probably tired of getting shot in the streets and being enslaved by the industrial prison complex. Hegemony and fascism is alive and well in Nashville, Tennessee. Thank you very much.

 

 

 

In the summer of 2016 we bought a modest record collection from a very funny lady who had a lot of stories to share about St. Paul in the sixties. Her albums were mostly classic rock standards, but a copy of T.C. Atlantic’s one and only LP (Recorded Live at the Bel Rae Ballroom) set off a number of memories because she’d known the band when she was a teenager.

The garage group never had a national hit like some of their contemporaries from the Twin Cities, but their singles have since become favorites of garage and psych rock collectors. This is especially true for their last record, “Faces,” a fuzz heavy classic which was released nationally by Parrot Records.

Parrot also re-issued this single which originally appeared on the local candy floss label. One of our favorite Minnesota songs from the 60s is on the A side, and our new friend explained that it was inspired by her father. She couldn’t offer us his name, but explained that he had been a mafia hit man and the phrase “the cat had kittens” was a code for when he had completed his grim task.

“Twenty Years Ago (In Speedy’s Kitchen)” won song of the year at the short-lived Connie Awards in 1968. It was on the strength of this single that Parrot Records took on T.C. Atlantic, and the song is still a local favorite. Whether the story is true or not, we couldn’t say — but St. Paul was certainly a “gangster’s paradise” of sorts as corrupt local officials were willing to look the other way when it came to organized crime. This was most true during the prohibition era, which is ironic because it was a Minnesotan member of the House of Representatives who introduced the National Prohibition Act in 1919.

While in the 1930s St. Paul was the site of sensational crimes such as the kidnapping and ransom of William Hamm Jr. (of the brewery family) and Edward Bremmer (of the banking family), and Minnesota boasted more than 20% of the bank robberies in 1932, law and order had largely returned by the middle of the decade. The T.C. Atlantic song released in 1968 may have actually been referring to events of thirty years ago. The end of the era of organized crime in the midwest was the result of the FBI’s crackdown on high profile criminals, such as Alvin Karpis, a conspirator in both kidnappings. He was tried in St. Paul’s Federal Court Building, which is now the Landmark Center, and sentenced to life in prison. Karpis, nicknamed “Creepy” for his un-nerving smile, was the only one of the four men given the auspicious distinction of “Public Enemy #1” to be captured alive.

Karpis was released and deported in 1969 after having been imprisoned in Alcatraz longer than any other inmate. Living in Montreal he wrote his memoirs, which included an entertaining account of his brief acquaintance with an entirely different 60s recording artist, Charles Manson:

This kid approaches me to request music lessons. He wants to learn guitar and become a music star. “Little Charlie” is so lazy and shiftless, I doubt if he’ll put in the time required to learn. The youngster has been in institutions all of his life —first orphanages, then reformatories, and finally federal prison. His mother, a prostitute, was never around to look after him. I decide it’s time someone did something for him, and to my surprise, he learns quickly. He has a pleasant voice and a pleasing personality, although he’s unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never involved in even an argument.

We have always loved posting privately-pressed albums by 70s show bands — the most popular of these lost li’l gems we’ve shared with you has been the couple albums we’ve found by Dave Major and the Minors (here and here) which led folks to share, through the comment section, the band’s history of triumph, at least on the ballroom circuit, and tragedy.

Today’s selection is a little different from most others we’ve shared because it’s part comedy/part original music. There’s only one cover on The Facts O’ Life’s album (Willie Mitchell’s “Soul Serenade”) and the record has some goofy comedy bits interspersed, making it more like Music is Just A Bunch of Notes by Spider John Koerner and Willie & the Bees.

The originals are all by lead singer J. Terry Kratky, a similar blend of R&B and bar rock as that local album which is one of our personal favorites. Kratky doesn’t have the insight or wit of Koerner, but that’s not really a fair comparison if you ask us. He does have a knack for melody and puts some thoughtful love songs into the album.

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The comedy bits aren’t really better or worse than Koerner’s, mostly just a distraction when you’re listening to the album. Seems like the impulse to fit something silly into an album infiltrated nearly every kind of music around that time, even jazz (Roland Kirk’s Case of the Three Side Dream in Audio Color).

The Facts O’ Life LP has a label that looks suspiciously like the United Artists logo, but in fact says UMA, for United Music Artists. We wonder if this clever ruse tricked any record shoppers into thinking this was a big budget, major label release when they saw it on the shelves.

From the liner notes: “This album is our contribution to the salvation of mankind for it contains a smile. A smile, we hope, that will soon be on your face. Try it on, it feels good!”

That was the question on our minds earlier this summer when we were trying to organize the stacks and stacks of CDs in our office. We’re always enthusiastic to give any new local recording a listen, but sometimes we forget where they came from or how they ended up here. In this case, it turned out J. Briozo was a new name for an old friend of the record shop.

This new disc, out on Friday with a release show at the Phoenix Theater, is an offshoot of longstanding roots rock band Swallows, whose own third album is now a half-decade in the works. Fans of the group are familiar with their penchants for such projects, which in recent years has included instrumental chamber music and a country album.

Swallows’ songwriter Jeff Crandall created the J. Briozo persona drawing from his mother’s Azore Island and Portuguese heritage and tapping into memories of his grandmother, who sang in her native language on a Fresno, California radio station in the 40s and 50s. The result was something entirely removed from the two and a half albums he’d written with Swallows, something much closer to the AM radio which first inspired his imagination as a child. Crandall has paid several visits to the record shop to talk more about Deep in the Waves, which may refer to the airwaves as aptly as those of the sea.

While there’s a strong feeling Deep in the Waves owes a debt to 70s airwave staples like Bread, Poco or Brewer & Shipley, one can hear the recent sounds of a Sea Change or Morning Phase or the midwest’s own Bon Iver reflected in the album. And although the album is issued under a new name, it doesn’t sound all that removed from the last Swallows record, Witching & Divining. The band’s earthy approach to Americana is just in the DNA of their recordings. If you’re eager to stream another song from the album, you can hear the first track on Soundcloud here.

There are some moments on the album perfect for old AM radio, especially the bright closing cut, “Sun Sun True” and “Beautiful Mess,” both songs which recall Everclear-era American Music Club. The song “Catalonia” finds a drifter traveling to the region where “the warm wind blows,” but the song doesn’t take a position on its current movement for independence from Spain (it was recorded well before the recent vote).

On “Deep in the Waves” Crandall’s voice comes across without any alteration and this provides one of the most earnest moments on the album, which is dedicated to his mother. She passed away from an unexpected illness as the band was finishing the project, which Crandall described to us as a life changing experience. In a conversation with us, Crandall said its difficult to lose the person who raised you, but that “you also start think that much harder about your own mortality and that you are becoming the oldest generation in your family.”

He had more to say about that title track in a recent interview on Vents Magazine:

The song “Deep in the Waves” is told from the point of view of one’s inner voice compelling you rise up and sieze the day – to be alive and awake instead of submerged and drowning. It’s easy to feel underwater in life, like you are struggling every day just to keep afloat. “Deep in the Waves” is essentially a song from the soul to the self about transforming that struggle into something more positive and constructive.

Crandall is coming up on a decade and a half of making music here in Minnesota and this album, his best-yet set of songs, is buoyed by moving performances from longtime collaborators, especially bassist/cellist Aaron Kerr, multi-instrumentalist Tyson Allison and drummer Justin DeLeon. While not in name a new album by his band, Swallows, Deep in the Waves is an excellent addition to their catalog.

The release show for Deep in the Waves is this Friday at the Phoenix Theater on Hennepin Avenue (details on their website here). Lolo’s Ghost will open up the show.

This 1959 b-side by the McGuire Sisters may be called “Have a Nice Weekend” but its not a very happy song.

Session guitarist Grady Martin appeared on so many hit 45s in his epic career it would take a collector a while to find them all. Everything from rockabilly classics like Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man” to country standards such as “On the Road Again” — with stops along the way to discover guitar fuzz on Marty Robbins’ “Don’t Worry” and offer up an enduring riff on “Oh Pretty Woman.”

He also recorded a number of records of his own. Included in them is this cover of the theme from Dragnet, which is both silly and awesome at the same time.

We love Halloween! It’s one of the most uniquely American holidays, in no small part because it has evolved from a variety of traditions imported from around the world. We can thank the ancient Celts for the tradition of dressing in spooky costumes — their harvest festival, the Gaelic harvest festival Samhain was a time when the wall between the corporeal world and that of the spirits became permeable. Costumes were used to confuse the spirits.

From this same source we inherit the practice of mumming or guising, in which revelers dressed as the aos sí, the souls of the dead, would visit homes and perform to receive treats as an offering to the dead. In England this became known as souling, when mostly poor people would ask for food in exchange for saying prayers for the dead. Thanksgiving begging became a tradition here in America, but largely disappeared during the Depression. After World War II trick or treating was introduced to children at least in part to occupy them so they wouldn’t play Halloween pranks along the lines of Scotland’s Cabbage Day, on which spoiled produce was tossed at homes.

As the Catholic Church began to replace pagan celebrations such as Samhain with its own liturgical calendar, a three day celebration of the saints and remembrance of the recently lost called Hallowmas became the setting for these activities. It’s first night, All Hallows Eve, soon became Halloween.

The story of Jack of the Lantern also travelled across the Atlantic to find a home here in America — only instead of keeping his burning coal in a carved turnip, Jack used a pumpkin. The pumpkin, like all squashes, is an ancient New World food, believed to have first been cultivated in Mexico between 5,000 BC and 7,000 BC. It was the first of the foundational “Three sisters” — squash, beans, corn — of ancient Mesoamerican agriculture.

Our family carved our jack o’ lanterns last night!

Of course the real appeal of the holiday for our kids is the candy. According to the internet, Americans spend more than $2 billion on Halloween, most of that in the form of chocolate and *shudder* candy corn. Its worth noting that the fear of poisoned candy is almost entirely unfounded. Only a handful of cases exist — most famously that of Ronald Clark O’Bryan, who poisoned his son with cyanide in a pixie stick in hopes of collecting insurance money. O’Bryan attempted to cover up his horrible crime by distributing the poison to his daughter and three other children, but only eight-year-old Timothy ate his pixie stick. After a lengthy investigation, O’Bryan was charged, convicted and ultimately executed by the state of Texas. He is the subject of the song “Candyman” by Siouxsie and the Banshees.

We’ll have some safe delicious candy in the record shop today. Costumes are welcome but not required. We’ve also got a couple copies of the Hymies Halloween mix CD left, which includes great songs like the Fortunes’ “Ghoul in School,” heard above.

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