Djeli Moussa Diawara - Fote Mogoban 
It's so easy for me to fall into a hypnotic state to this one, as I just did, coming to only to find a map of Ivory Coast on my screen and a bunch of half-baked ideas for a trip to Africa in my head. Comprised of only a few instruments, Djeli Moussa's Kora along with a balafon, and two guitars, the traditional music still manages to fully encompass you. It's rare to feel as surrounded in light as I do when I listen to this song, and the album on which it appears (sometimes referred to as Yasmika). The constant simmer of the music and voices gives me a sense of propelling up into a sun lit sky, corkscrewing all the way.
Noco Music - Eclipse 
A French saxophone & percussion duo that I'm not truly sure how I stumbled upon, but I very well may have just been looking for records with both vibraphones and saxophones -- that is a thing that I recall doing -- Noco Music tap into a wonderfully breezy sensibility.
I haven't found much info about the group, so I will talk about the song's subject matter, eclipses. Total eclipses are wonderful and you should do whatever you can to see one within the totality zone. I have seen one and it was among the most beautiful and amazing things I've ever witnessed. Everyone else I've talked to who has seen one from the totality seems to feel the same way. In conclusion, you should try to see a total eclipse form within the totality zone.
The Platters - My Prayer 
I love the way doo-wop songs just grab your attention immediately with these incredible intros built to cut through the airwaves of their radio heyday to standout. This one is just another perfect example. To be honest, the song that follows is solid, but that intro ... loop it up and lock me in a listening room.
A note that I, and possibly I alone, find interesting: While the song has been featured in a few soundtracks over the years, its placement in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks: The Return" stands out to me. Partially, because I was obsessed with that show, but also because of in the depths of my research of understanding every facet of each episode, I learned that one of the singers in The Platters was also named David Lynch. In conclusion, David Lynch is weird and so I am and, y'know what, if you're reading this, you are too. Earth: A Big Bunch of Weirdos.
J.K. & Co. - Fly 
Well, this album turned out to have a story. What does J.K. stand for? Well, J.K. stands for Jay Kaye, an, at the time, 15 year old Las Vegas teen from a musical family (his uncle was a famous ukulele player named Johnny Ukulele ... I told you there was a story). After his mother, a world renowned Las Vegas guitarist and singer who is credited with starting the Las Vegas "lounge act" phenomenon, turned down an opportunity to record an album in Vancouver during a stop there, her son jumped at the offer and demoed his songs.
The studio head liked what they heard and so Mary left her 15 year old son there, where, from what I've read, it appears he did a bunch of LSD and put together this one-off album with the help of a teenaged arranger and a studio band called Mother Tuckers Yellow Duck. Then ... yes there's a then ... they took the album to Los Angeles, walked into the offices of White Whale (an independent label best known for The Turtles) who loved what they heard and put it out.
But ... the album, with this psychedelic dirge as it's single, bombed, and J.K. and the band of teenagers he'd put together to promote the album, were all too young to play the clubs, so they got no traction in the scene and went their own ways having blown all the money on the instruments for their band. And that's the story! I think my favorite part is still "Johnny Ukulele".
Bebeto - Princesa Negra De Angola 
It's harder for me to write about a fun song like this. Like, it's just a very fun song to listen to. I do not know what it's about. The little info I've found about Bebeto comes from Google translations of a Portuguese Wikipedia article, and that info, is not particularly interesting. But here's what I will say, this is a very fun song to listen to -- oh, did I already say that? Damn.
Albert & Charles - Weird 
This is apparently the only single Albert and Charles released. From what little info I could find, they seem to have been a pair of homeless twins that the head of the label, Gus Jenkins, overheard playing while stopped at a traffic light and investigated. He pressed 50 copies of the record, and somehow, despite all impracticality, here you are giving it a listen. What a world!
Merle Travis - Dark as a Dungeon 
While it later became a staple of the 1960's folk revival, "Dark as a Dungeon" was not originally a hit on the level of his own "Sixteen Tons", gaining most of it's notoriety for it's inclusion on Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison. But where Cash's version booms with the affection of someone still in the grips of addiction, which makes sense as he was just coming out of a battle with his own drug dependency, Travis sings from the pained perspective of someone on the outside, whose affection is for the people harmed and the dangers they endure. They're both certainly worthwhile, but for where I am, Merle's hits me hardest.
Chuck Senrick - The Duke Is Gone 
From Chuck Senrick's 1976 private press album, Dreamin', I've always thought this song was about Duke Ellington, who had died two years earlier. It's not, which makes more sense -- though on outsider private press albums like this, what makes more sense isn't always what you get. The song is about his dog, which is clear (and heartbreaking) during the fade out when he whistles to it, "here Duke, c'mon boy".
I've always loved homespun records and demos. The intimacy of being in someone's personal space and being granted to the raw, untinkered songs inside. To have all this on a song about feeling alone, backed by a rhythm box beat ... count me in.
Perez Prado - La Octava Religión 
I don't know what you call this. Is this a mambo? Perez Prado is certainly the "King of the Mambo", but it's pretty out there mambo-wise. But then again, who says a mambo can't be out there? Maybe this is Leftfield Mambo -- Haunted Mambo -- Vintage Nu Mambo.
The Larks - Hold Me 
Doo-wop has become one of my favorite genre's to explore. It's like a concentrated from of the most soulful vocal jazz, and was perfectly suited to the technological limits of it's recording era, filling the mono sound spectrum with vibrating harmonies.
This is one of those tracks we're lucky to have, and almost didn't. After sitting in with other members of the later-to-be group a few times, lead singer, Gene Mumford, was arrested for a crime he didn't commit and sent to prison. At the dogged urging of his father, the case was re-examined, and evidence was discovered eliminating him as a suspect. He was pardoned and released after serving two years, picked up with the group, and went on to record several classics.
Faust - Das Meer [1971-3]
Rejected by their label, Virgin, and unreleased until fifteen years after its recording, "Das Meer" is one of the most peaceful tracks the experimental German group, Faust put out. The title translate to "the ocean", and the sounds that follow it fit it to a T, capturing its unique feel of unsettled fluidity. The sea isn't just expansive, it's listless and random. To be on it is to be tossed about without ever landing. You can learn a lot about the world by listening to music.
The Frantics - No Werewolf 
This is exactly the sort of thing I find interesting about doing this blog. When I started writing this post, I was planning to do a 1964 song by The Ventures called "The Fourth Dimension", but while researching, I noticed that none of the composers for the song were in the band. After a quick search, I found that their song was an instrumental cover of one from 1960 by fellow Washingtonians, The Frantics, called "Werewolf".
That song, a hit that went to #83 on the Billboard charts, featured a spoken intro over the music about werewolves along with some growls, which the Ventures had abandoned. While I enjoy werewolf talk as much as the next person, I was still leaning towards the Ventures version. Then I noticed that on the original single the B-side was a track called "No Werewolf", which, true to title, is the same song just without the werewolf stuff.
A couple minutes deeper into my little journey of learning, and I found that the writers of the song were also not in The Frantics (and to be honest I'm not entirely sure who they were) and that The Frantics went on to morph into the seminal San Francisco group, Moby Grape, whose song "I Am Not Willing" I absolutely adore.
So, yeah. Ideal little info exploration for me :)
Arthur - Blue Museum 
A poet living on the streets of 1967 Los Angeles, Arthur Lee Harper was signed to Lee Hazlewood's LHI label where he was packaged as a bit of a Donovan clone. With the lightest orchestral touches arranged by Wrecking Crew pianist, Don Randi, "Blue Museum" feels almost too fragile -- as if even turning up the volume could someone shatter the sound.
Sometimes a person can be so delicate that, even if you don't know what they're going through, you feel an intimacy with them simply because their presence before you seems fraught with risk. Arthur seems to have been one of those people.
Cal Tjader - Aquarius 
If you're a fan of A Tribe Called Quest, you know this piece so well it hurts. Used as the backing for the introduction to their 1993 album, Midnight Marauders, it's hard to know if I'd feel the same warm way about if I hadn't heard it hundreds of times before. I want to say yes, but it's always a struggle to know for sure when it comes to music you know originally from it's sampled usage. I can say I come across plenty of records that don't hold up to the songs that late reused them.
I really don't listen to much hip-hop anymore, but until the day I die or at least stop being coherent (... assuming I'm still on the right side of that one) I'll never stop being thankful to the crate-diggers of yore that exposed me to a whole worlds of music that I wouldn't get around to truly exploring until decades later.
Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno - Deep Blue Day 
This song and I both came into the world in 1983, and while I think a lot of people of my generation know this one from it's usage in the film, Trainspotting, I'm still not sure I've seen that movie. Do they steal dogs in Trainspotting? I definitely saw a movie about heroin addicts who stole dogs. Instead, I had to fumble around the world for an extra decade or so until I came across the soul-cleansing gem on Brian Eno's Apollo album of music for the score to a NASA documentary.
If you ever get a chance to see the band Slowdive, an added bonus to the already great deal of getting to see Slowdive is that they open their shows by playing this track over the speakers as they walk out. Or at least they did when I saw them. Sometimes it pays to listen to quiet songs very very loud.
Galt MacDermot - Tender Meeting 
Last year, a month or so after I finally found a copy of the Galt MacDermot album this song derives from, he passed away. I'd been looking for that record in every record store I'd been in for several years, as it's one of those albums that hooked me in the very first time I heard it. He plays the piano with such a soulful sensitivity that my heart just follows his melodies and rhythms wherever they go.
I didn't even realize he had still been alive, but, thinking back, it makes me glad to know that the love I felt for his music was going out into a world in which he still lived. I don't know if any of it made it to him, but I hope it did.
Batsumi - Emampondweni 
From the stunning, self-titled debut of Batsumi, a South African spiritual jazz group, "Empampondweni" begins by pulling the listener in with it's circling rhythm and call & response vocals, before taking their well-earned attention on a joyous journey once the focus shifts to the jaunty interplay between the saxophone, flute, and guitar.
Recorded in 1974 Johannesburg against the backdrop of apartheid, Batsumi were actually one of the few South African jazz groups of their time to leave a recorded history. That it was recorded in such stunning fidelity, thanks to their use of a high quality studio usually used for radio jingles, just makes it all the more special.
Theola Kilgore - This Is My Prayer 
A former gospel singer from Shreveport, Louisiana, Theola Kilgore made the move into secular recording in the early 1960's, and quickly landed at the tops of the charts with her hit "The Love of My Man", itself based off a gospel song, "The Love of God". Following it up with this track, it's clear that she never strayed far from her spiritual roots as she belts out an immediately arresting vocal that could fill a church, but manages to maintain the deep intimacy of the finest soul music.
The only thing I really remember from the biopic, Ray, is a scene in which Ray Charles is reprimanded for taking the music of the church and debasing it. For some reason, that criticism stuck with me, and I've never been able to outright reject it. At the same time, I think there's something to be said for treating all our secular concerns with the holy reverence that some would reserve for religious concerns.
The history of recorded secular music is a lovingly detailed catalog of the very depths of human emotion, and maybe that's something some would rather run to a higher power to save them from, but I'll never stop appreciating those that showed the world how to look in the mirror with eyes as wide as possible and love ourselves in each and every state to the same degree others would love god.
Four Tops - Still Water (Love) 
It's hard to think of higher praise for song than this: this song was a chief inspiration for the sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On album. That sort of hypnotic soul that seems like it could go on forever, it's all here ... I mean ... what else is there to say?
Oh, I know, that this is one of the very few writing/producing collaborations between two of Motown's finest, Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson, and while I'm sure this version is as good as it gets, I'd still love to hear some long lost demo with a Smokey vocal on it. Loop it up and let it play.
Ry Cooder - I Like Your Eyes 
I'm getting the feeling that there maybe a whole world of great movie score "love themes" that I'm only beginning to discover. Have I seen this movie? No. Will I? Probably not. But I did see Paris, Texas and that certainly opened me up to the electric guitar ambience of Ry Cooder, and that was enough to go exploring.
"I Like Your Eyes" was recorded for Johnny Handsome, a Mickey Rourke vehicle about a criminal born with a severe facial deformity who ends up in a jail where I guess they give plastic surgery to people. This piece, though, does just fine without all the context I'm sure the film adds to its splendor.
Dur-Dur Band - Hiyeeley 
Credit to Permanent Records in Highland Park for spinning a track from this album while I was in there last year (the one on the north side of York -- still don't understand why they have two stores there). While their first two albums were just recently re-issued by Analog Africa, the Dur-Dur band was once the premier act of late 80's Mogadishu, Somalia, playing a unique brand of incredibly catchy and fiery funk just before the country fell apart. It definitely casts the vitality of the music in a somewhat tragic light. Somalia is a place I've only known of in the continuing aftermath of it's civil war, but here there's such an exuberant celebration of life. From what I've read, members of the band ended up fleeing to Ethiopia and other countries, effectively ending the band. The founders now live in Ohio.
Achim Reichel - Drei in Eins 
Though I've tried a few times, I've never found my way into American jam bands. There were a few early Grateful Dead tracks that did something for me, and a Jerry Garcia guitar piece off the Zabriskie Point soundtrack that I quite enjoyed, but even those have seemed like outliers of the genre. The jam bands from the other side of the Atlantic, those of the 70's European psychedelic scenes, always seem to capture my attention.
This track from guitarist, Achim Reichel typifies what I'm always hoping for American jam bands to be; a bouncy little balm for whatever ails ya. Reiched started as a member of a 60's German rock band in the Beatles mold, The Rattles, before leaving to record solo prog experiments as A.R. & Machines. The title here translates to "Three in One", referring to the songs three distinct sections, in case you didn't take German in high school, or did but somehow paid less attention than me.
Kwick - I Want To Dance With You 
I have had pieces of this song popping up in my head for months but couldn't remember who did it for the life of me. I guess it's still an oddly under the radar track as none of my searches for the lyrical sections I could recall turned up anything, but eventually I broke down and just started playing old playlists from parties I DJ-ed and finally landed on it. (For some dumb reason, I had convinced myself that doing a search of my music library for "dance with you" couldn't possibly yield the song as it was too obvious of a name")
Perfectly balanced between the soulful-disco of the late 70's and the funky-pop of the 80's, its charms are instantly obvious, but what always thrills me me is how well written each part is. From the Giorgio Moroder-esque intro to the wonderfully bouncy vocals of the bridge to the full soul rinse of the chorus, it always feels like you're in good hands.
Kwick spent the 70's under the name The Newcomers working their way up through the southern soul hub of the Stax-Volt label system in Memphis, contributing background vocals to other acts, performing as an opening act on live tours, and occasionally releasing a single. But when the label closed down in late 1975, the members were left without a home, releasing only one lackluster single on Mercury in 1978 before they made a bold retooling. Adding a new member, changing their name to Kwick, and signing to EMI, they came out with a wholly different and more modern disco-influenced sound that few would have expected based on their previous material.
Santana - Practice What You Preach 
The opening track of side two of Santana's 1974 album, Borboletta, "Practice What You Preach" consists of two sections that add up into something wonderfully unique. It begins with an extended psychedelic duet between Carlos Santana' guitar and Tom Coster's Hammond organ before blossoming into a gem of spiritual proto-disco, all with a little something to say thanks to the vocals from the band's lead singer of the time, Leon Patillo.
Bill Fay - Screams in the Ears 
A lot of people tried their hand at Bob Dylan mimicry in the sixties, but few aimed at the apocalyptic diver bar blues that filled Highway 61 Revisited, and it's hard to imagine anyone pulled it off as well as Bill Fay did here on the B-side of his debut single. That's not to say that Fay wasn't a talent in his own right, but the connection here seems undeniable. The shared sense of vicious judgement and deep disillusionment with the culture of the day in their lyrics combined with the similar circumstances of their recordings -- they were both solo songwriters that were taking a fresh spin fronting already existent bands (here Bill is backed by a group called The Fingers that the producer brought to the recording date) -- may explain a certain amount of stylistic overlap, but the link still stands.
I don't mean to sound critical of the song. In fact, I wish there were more songs like it, because for any of us who has had that moment of clarity deep in the midst of a party where you find yourself saying "who are these monsters and what am I doing here?", how many songs do we really have?
Bud Isaacs - Skokiaan 
Named after a bootleg alcoholic drink that can be brewed in one day and initially recorded in 1950 by the African Dance Band of the Cold Storage Commission of Southern Rhodesia (and what a name), "Skokiaan" became a worldwide phenomenon in 1954 spurring a multitude of covers from artists across the musical spectrum; The Four Lads to Perez Prado. To me though, this Bud Isaacs take of it on his pedal steel guitar stands above all the other versions I've heard.
As the originator of adding the pedal to the steel guitar, Bud Isaacs certainly earned his place in my personal heroes of music history, but his playing here is so ebullient that he'd probably have earned the spot with this song alone.
The July Four - Mr. Miff 
The B-side to a one-off single from a slightly-psych pop vocal group, "Mr. Miff" is essentially just the instrumental backing to the A-side, "Frightened Little Girl", with an echoing guitar lead replacing the vocals and brass, but, wow, does it make a difference. The melody's initial darkness seems to take emotional stock of the weight of the world before progressing into an airy refrain, that allows the listener to let go, open the window, and invite in a little fresh perspective. Wish I had a little more info on the group to share, but I guess that's often the nature of hidden gems ...
The Orchestra Soledad - Just Like A Fool 
An entrancing piece of latin-influenced doo-wop from the sole release by a neighborhood salsa band from Brooklyn, "Just Like A Fool" uses its simplicity and soulfulness to sway its way to where ever it is that longing lives. Sung and arranged by Hector Ramos, with organ by Miguel Fulu, there's a charm in the homespun feel of the song; that unmistakable beauty of amateurs getting it all right. On paper it seems like it would be too long at five minutes, but in practice, I've never made it to the next song without getting in a couple of replays first.
Tesfa Mariam Kidane - Tezeta 
Truly one of the most powerfully calming pieces of music I've come across, "Tezeta" never fails to slip past the anxious noise that surrounds the soul and inject a sense of real peace that rapidly expands, engulfing the listener for six minutes that seem to go by in seconds.
Born in Eritrea, a country between Sudan and Ethiopia, Tesfa Mariam Kidane grew up listening to American radio broadcasts from Kagnew Station, a U.S. Army radio installation in the capitol of Asmara, and spent the 60's and early 70's playing saxophone in several Ethiopian bands, such as the All Star Band that backs him up here.
This track is arranged by Mulatu Astatke, and I've seen it credited to him in several places (which may be correct, I'm not entirely sure), but the magic of Kidane's saxophone and his interplay with Girma Béyéné's piano, lend me some comfort in leaving the credit with Tesfa.
The title of the piece, "Tezeta" translates to something akin to "nostalgia" but refers to an entire mode of music, more like how America uses "blues". Any survey of Ethiopian music will come up with several pieces that share the title, and many are treasures, but this one certainly holds a special place.
Emmitt Long - Call Me
Passive overtures and lonely romantics can groove too, y'know. Electric organ soul with Spanish-style guitar flourishes and a vocal that's somehow both lacking confidence and funky, this is a track that's quickly found itself in heavy "pop into my head" rotation ever since I heard it. I wish I could tell you something more about it, but it seems to be a one off release for both the artist and the label, so even the year of release seems to be an unknown. Perhaps that's fitting though, as it feels like a private, longing journal entry come to life and given an hour of late-night studio time.
Jeff Majors - Yasmeen 
Soaring above the intersection between spiritual jazz and the sort of new age background music you'd expect to find soundtracking a VHS that explains how to use new technology at the library (and I mean that in all the best ways), "Yasmeen" opens this recently reissued private press debut album from harpist, Jeff Majors, For Us All (Yoka Boka). After spending his teenage years under the musical & spiritual tutelage of Alice Coltrane, Majors moved to Washington, D.C., where he played with the cosmic jazz ensemble of Brother Ah & The Sounds of Awareness.
There's such a purity of hope in this music. Technology is seen as exciting; a doorway leading the world to a new enlightenment. Sitting squarely on the other side of that portal, the reality may feel quite a bit different, but this speaks to one of the great joys of recorded music; it's ability to not just preserve a vintage worldview, but also the very emotions that worldview elicited. We may not be able to see things that same way again, but we can still tap in to the essence of how they felt.
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