For many Leonard Bernstein is primarily known as a conductor, due no doubt to the commercial success of his recordings with the New York Philharmonic during his eleven years as their musical director. He was also an accomplished composer, and many of his works imply the influence of jazz: notably passages from his West Side Story score (a favorite of ours featured in a post here) and in the second part of his Symphony no. 2, The Age of Anxiety.
As a teenager Bernstein formed a jazz orchestra, and he was only twenty-five when he first conducted the New York Philharmonic (hear his debut here). In the 1950s he was an occasional host of a television program called Omnibus, which presented analysis of the arts in accessible terms. In one memorable episode Bernstein proposed how Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony may have sounded different by conducting some of the unused ideas the composer discarded. Over several years, and all three major networks, he also discussed musical comedy and opera, and in what became the basis for this 1956 LP, jazz. The musical samples are derived from Columbia’s extensive catalog.
…which is named for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ second album, which was released in 1974. But it could also be named for Wet Willie’s album of the same year, Keep on Smilin’. The albums, each with a random old person on the jacket, contained career peaks for the respective southern rock groups. The Daredevils had their biggest sales with “Jackie Blue” and the title track from the Wet Willie album was not only their highest-charting hit, it became a sort of signature tune for the group.
Recently, we have noticed some local records which are hoping for the same good fortune. All three albums by the Evening Rig seem to fall under the “It’ll Shine When It Shines” style, as does Erik Koskinen‘s excellent LP, American Theater. A third entry is Tabah‘s debut album, Symmetry Somewhere, which came out earlier this year.
We’re pretty excited to see the Yawpers at 7th Street Entry on Friday. Their 2015 album American Man didn’t live up to the praise we’d heard poured on the trio, but this year’s Boy in a Well has become the subject of fascination around here. Why do we love this album so much? The record ostensibly tells the story of an unwanted boy abandoned in a well and is set in France during the first World War, but its not the rock opera aspirations with which we have fallen in love. In fact, we haven’t really figured out the story — but then again can you really explain the plot of Tommy without sounding dumb (bam, pun intended) or do you just like what you hear?
Boy in a Well is an absolutely magical amalgam of Americana. Rockabilly roots run alongside all the things we secretly love about hair metal. Some of the songs start or end in standard American folk music but take surprising turns along the journey. One of the things that really knocks us out about Boy in a Well is the incredibly inventive performance of drummer Noah Shomberg, who shifts genres with grace and really drives the connections which establish the album’s concept. He’s so damn good you can almost forgive them for being one of those bands without a bass. Lead singer Nathanial Cook, who turns from Jimmie Rodgers to Axl Rose as a born storyteller, couldn’t have realized his vision without Shomberg and second guitarist Jesse Parmat.
Bloodshot is releasing a 7-inch single of “Mon Dieu” from the album backed with a live recording of the band covering “Ace of Spades” next month. There will also be a comic book adaptation of the album which was previewed by Paste Magazine here. Truthfully, the ten page sample reminded us that even though we have listened to this album fifty times, we have no idea what the plot of the story is — it looks like the love child of R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural and Joe Sacco’s comic journalism and we love it.
The album was recorded by Alex Hall at Chicago’s Reliable Recorders. In the same studio Hall also captured what we think could justifiably be called one of the most beloved Minnesota records of the decade, the Cactus Blossoms’ You’re Dreaming. In addition, local legend Tommy Stinson served as producer and also contributed a “piano freakout” to the recording. The point is that these guys aren’t from here, but they should be welcomed with open arms.
Boy in a Well is maybe about a half hour long but it moves with an epic sweep in spite of Shomberg’s barrelhouse performance. Cook’s performance is so extraordinary that it is hard to believe there are not a half dozen or more vocalists on this album, and Parmat captures a true sense of everything Americana from Scotty Moore to Poison Ivy. Memorable riffs and motifs blur pass like power poles through the window of a train, and we have been entranced by the album’s epic tour of everything we love about rock and roll and all its bastard cousins.
The song we’ve sampled here is “Mon Nom,” from the second side. We couldn’t pick a favorite song from this album — in fact it was the focus of debate around here. The achingly beautiful “A Visitor is Welcomed” just wasn’t representative, nor was the mad and driven “A Decision is Made,” which precedes it. It’s just a damn good record from beginning to end, which is surprisingly rare these days. You can also hear the sweeping closer “Reunion” in its official music video here. Presumably the Yawpers will be playing many of these songs on Friday night at the 7th Street Entry. Locals the Person and the People will open. Details on the First Avenue website here.
One of our customers is a fan of John Prine, and came into the shop last week to report on his recent performance at Northrop Auditorium. Aside from the constant requests shouted by the audience, it was a great evening. She said she was happy with his setlist. We expected he would perform “Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone,” but apparently he did’t.
We mistakenly thought he had never released a live album, but in fact there are two. The first, thirty years ago, included “Sabu” and also a number of his most well-known hits. The second, twenty years ago, had fewer of his early classics (though it did include “Illegal Smile”) and presumably was a CD only release. And forty-four years ago (!) Prine included one live song on his third album, Sweet Revenge. “Dear Abby” has always been a favorite of ours.
We are completely devastated by the news today that Grant Hart has passed away. He was one of the most gifted musicians Minnesota has ever produced, and actually larger and more extraordinary than the legendary reputation which preceded him. Its heartwarming to already hear stories about barefoot drumming, or about his cats, or about the epic writing and recording of his magnum opus, the 2013 album The Argument.
We don’t know what else to say. Today we’ll start with The Argument and work backwards listening to our favorites all the way back to “Wheels.”