Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Don Gibson's 50 Best Songs: One of the Great Bodies of American Popular Music

This is another home-brew compilation, with songs in chronological order, going from 1954 to 1969. This was perhaps country music's most fertile period. Great songwriters seemed to exist by the truckload--Harlan Howard, Willie Nelson, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, John D. Loudermilk, Hank Snow, etc., etc., etc.

It's easy to take this massive body of music for granted. Some of the songs--such as Don Gibson's "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Sweet Dreams"--are such a part of the fabric of American music that they may be invisible to many people.

I consider Don Gibson to be one of the strongest, most passionate country songwriters of his day. That he was a superb performer--until he adopted iffy vocal affectations, circa 1964--is a decided plus.

Many of the pro songwriters in '50s/'60s Nashville were charming, if tentative, vocalists. No one is going to champion Harlan Howard as an outstanding performer. Gibson is up there with Willie Nelson and Hank Snow as a masterful writer/artist in the classic country idiom.

Gibson's songs demonstrate the arc of development in country music through two turbulent decades. The earliest recordings heard here are typical of the hard-edged, plaintive honky-tonk country that surfaced via the inestimable influence of Hank Williams. There are, as well, a handful of solid rockabilly-style numbers ("I Ain't A-Studyin' You, Baby," "Tell It Like It Is" and the country-punk of "Sittin' Here Cryin'").

Gibson's soulful voice was used as the vehicle for "The Nashville Sound"--an attempt to give pop and rock fans a reference point for a music that was scorned as corny and old-fashioned. Some regrettable things occurred in the building of the Nashville Sound--obnoxious, ultra-white backing choruses, incongruous instruments such as electric organs and, to some purists' eyes, full drum kits. The arrangements tended towards the saccharine/Caucasian, as heard in several recordings in this compilation. It is to Gibson's credit that, while he embraces this new sound, he also transcends it with the power of his wavering, pensive voice.

Gibson struggled with drug addiction and was infamous for erratic behavior. These excesses took a toll on his abilities as performer and songwriter. His delivery becomes curiously clipped and curt in his post-1963 recordings. Compared to the moving performances of the late 1950s and early '60s, this new approach falls flat. If Gibson saw this as an improvement in his art, one can only disagree. He could still perform a song--his or others', the latter which he leaned on heavily after 1963--with beauty and soul, but the flowing sustained notes of his best early recordings are achingly absent.

When able to write, Gibson still proved a first-class country and pop writer. Late songs on this collection, such as "Around the Town," "Run Along Blues" and "Times Were Good" meet or surpass the quality of his late '50s/early '60s output. Indeed, the final song here, 1969's "There's a Story," shows the writer adapting to new changes in the sound of country music.

"Oh Lonesome Me," "I Can't Stop Loving You" and "Sweet Dreams" have proved Don Gibson's most enduring compositions. He recorded the latter several times before arriving at his definitive version, released as a 1962 single. Its flipside, "The Same Street," is a devastating, gloomy song about the traces of a ruined relationship that supremely haunt their singer. This was a Gibson lyrical specialty. Few of his songs have happy outcomes. In the song "Give Myself a Party," Gibson takes this melancholy and turns it inside-out. The results are unusual and gripping. The song is a jaunty death-march to the idea that human love can successfully exist.

All songs are derived from the three box sets of Gibson's 1949-1969 recordings issued by, er, "Ursine Clan" Records in the 1990s. All three sets are worth acquiring, in whatever form available, for their alternate takes, tremendous cover versions and a few minor gems that didn't make the cut of this personal Top Fifty.

You can download this 314 MB file (just songs--no artwork) right HERE. No password required.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Songs of Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman: 75 Pieces of Shuffling, Soulful Joy!

HERE is a link to a zipped file containing 75 great songs written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman. These images depict the front and back of the packaging. Inside the file, you just get the songs, in one file for each disc. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

P. F. Sloan--A Passel of Passionate 1960s Demo Recordings--NEW LINKS 9 May 2017!

I summed up the musical career of Phil Sloan in the liner notes for the Ace Records compilation You Baby: Words and Music by P. F. Sloan and Steve Barri, which was released in 2010. Buy it, why don'cha? I put a lot of work into this project, including in-depth interviews with Sloan and Barri. I made 400 bucks for my trouble. I am, apparently, persona non grata at Ace Records, for reasons I shall never know.

Still, I am proud of this project, even though some of its song choices are weak, and some key tracks are missing--mostly due to unreasonably high licensing fees.

Destined to be one of the most controversial and maligned figures in that potent decade of pop music progress, Sloan's 1960s Los Angeles career was short but sweet. The years 1964 to 1967 saw a large quantity of original songs, written in a dizzying array of styles, most often with his collaborator, Steve Barri, composed, demoed and sometimes recorded by other artists.

"Eve of Destruction" changed Sloan's life and career. A prior composer of pop, girl group, surf, rock and novelty songs, Sloan was suddenly seen as a serious composer--the first "new Bob Dylan" in pop-rock history.

Like almost all others who had that mantle put upon them, it was more burden than honor. While Sloan continued to write dynamite mainstream pop music material, he also strove to create more complex, advanced songs that uneasily straddled the boundaries of pop and folk musics.

Some of these songs are failures--over-wrought, over-written and awkwardly conceived. But the majority are bracing, exciting and sometimes deeply moving compositions that showed the pop music world that there was more than met the eye to what a commercial piece of music could contain.

Sloan was out of Los Angeles by the end of 1967, and his songs were largely forgotten. Meanwhile, countless other singer-songwriters trod the path he had unconsciously blazed, and his influence--as the first composer to meet the disparate ends of Dylanesque personal songwriting and mainstream commerical material--still hangs over the American musical landscape.

Sloan's solo recordings of this period rarely do him justice. Perhaps at the encouragement of record-label execs, Sloan affects a Dylanish whine to his vocals, and most of the recordings are badly balanced, overly sparse, and betray the lack of TLC afforded them. His two period albums, Songs of Our Times and Twelve More Times, have their moments, but fail to satisfyingly cohere.

Sloan's secret recording career, as the passionate performer of scores of demonstration recordings, was unheard outside the music industry at the time. Sung beautifully in his rich, distinctive voice, and often more elaborately orchestrated than his solo albums, these demos show Sloan at his early best.

A CD of some highlights of these demo recordings was commercially issued in 2001. That disc, Child of Our Times, is the first act of today's post. Though its graphics are shoddy, the mastering of the 20 songs therein is superb. You can nab a 320 rip of that out-of-print seedee HERE.

The disc represented just the tip of the iceberg. I've assembled a bonus volume, containing 25 more demo performances, HERE. (This is a new link on 5/9/17. Please download it to keep it alive!!!)

These 25 songs more accurately show the schizophrenic aspects of Sloan's commercial songwriting. Everything from a cutesy boy-girl duet, and several songs for an apparently abandoned 1964 album project devoted to the "swim" dance craze, to devastatingly good pop songs such as "He's Just That Kind of Guy," "And I Cry Over You" and "Things Are Different Now" and more Dylanesque pieces ("Me And My Captain," "It's No Disgrace") are on deck. There's even a country-pop song, "I Love You More Than Yesterday," that seems to have been written on spec, but never used.

That was the sad fate of so many of these songs: disuse and indifference. 50 years later, we can hear these and marvel at how good they are, even the sillier of them. But back then, when they were part of the commerical currency of the music scene, they were ignored. The music biz is a ruthless profession, and it's chewed up and spit out some very talented individuals.

Sloan is alive and well, and still making music. He has a new album, My Beethoven, and a memoir called What Exactly's The Matter With Me? I own neither one yet (I believe the book is due out in late June), but I hope to acquire them soon. In the meantime, peruse these 45 demo recordings from the mid-1960s, and enjoy one of the era's most passionate voices.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

25 Good Reasons To Like 14: Complete Works of a Criminally Unknown 1960s Band--RE UPPED IN 320! WITH LINERS!

This out-of-print 1998 compilation hasn't been available on blogs for several years. I recently scored a copy of the scarce, Swedish disc, which is, in part, one of my favorite albums, period.

What does the group's name mean? Here's a little chunk of information I found in the liner notes of the long-deleted Swedish CD anthology, Stora Popboxen, where I first heard 14's music:

“Floskler, Jeremiader Och Rim Till Omusikalisk Nation” [FJORTON, Swedish for 14) (literally: empty phrases, lamentations, and rhymes for an unmusical nation]  That was one of the explanations for the name “14”, and the number sits in quotation marks too.  Another explanation is that they wanted to choose a name that would stand out from the crowd.
“14” made eight singles and one album but were possibly a little too reserved for the Tio i Topp jury.

But for one of the members things went considerably better some 30 years later.  His name is Olle Nilsson – or is it John Lennon?

Not every track here is stellar, but the good ones are SO good that I rate them with the best work of a very fertile period for popular music (1965-68).

This Swedish foursome's music, at its best, weds stunningly inventive and memorable melodies to complex, evocative lyrics, with subject matter that often falls far afield of typical pop music tropes.

The group's principal songwriter and (presumably) leader, Olle Nilsson, imbued the group's 1960s recordings with an uniquely melancholy, introspective vibe. Though the music wears its obvious influences (Beatles, Who, Kinks, Paul Simon, Hollies) on its embroidered sleeve, the songs continually impress with their original, fresh feeling.

Some are misfires--the B-side throwaway "Nothing But Moan," the chunky but derivative "Suit-Men Crowd" and the parodic-but-wearisome "Mr Great Blues." The brace of originals from their album, In A Bunch, stand the test of time as brilliant songs and recordings.

"Little Down-Hearted Arthur," for example, captures the raw sense of youthful alienation as well as any song I've ever heard. "Restless Feeling One Hour After Dinner" is a striking evocation of boredom and ennui among a person who has no reason to feel those blues."Im Krankenhaus" tells the story of sickly child confined to his bed, too weak to venture beyond his room and miserable in his isolation.

"Frosty Stars on a Window Pane" and, most powerfully, "The Leaves of the Summer," evoke a sense of climate and seasonal change as a simple but affecting metaphor.

Listen to "The Leaves of the Summer" HERE and see how you like it.

The last three tracks on the disc were apparently composed in the late 1960s, and recorded (by the original group?) in the late 1990s. They don't exactly meld with the folky, intense quality of the 1960s recordings, but are worth a listen.

Get it, now in 320sound,with all the CD's artwork, and my inept but sincere translation of the Swedish notes, HERE. It's on Box.com, and should be a no-fuss download for ya.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Complete James Ray: 22 Tracks; If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody (in Itty Bitty Pieces), then Put Me in Your Diary--and Welcome to the Floor

Seeing that the various "5" Royales posts, here, have proved popular, here's some more R&B, albeit of a more eccentric lot.

Contained HEREIN (Box.com download) are the 21 tracks that, I believe, comprise the recorded output of James Ray, elfin soul singer, between 1962 and 1964. He died in '64, as this skeletal Wikipedia article relates.

UPDATE: One more track, a lackluster version of "(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over," which shared a single with the far superior "One By One," escaped my notice 'til now. Download it here (Box.com only).  I now believe this to be the complete James Ray.

Ray had a great voice--smoky, expressive, and more than a little indebted to another Ray (Charles). His performances are commanding and unusual.

Producer Hutch Davies fashioned some zany arrangements to couch Ray's unique voice, abetted by several original tunes composed by cult soul figure Rudy Clark.

Some R&B/soul purists can't stand the weird backdrops on several tunes, but I love them, and think that their off-ness is an asset. From the tuba-harmonica duet on the waltz-time "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" to the cartoon-Dixieland of "St. James Infirmary," you never know what's gonna end up in the musical stewpot.

Ray did his share of good, solid straight-ahead soul numbers towards the end of his too-brief career. Some of these tracks weren't released until the 1980s, when Charly Records did a James Ray LP. Tunes such as "One By One," "We Got a Thing Goin' On," "On That Day" and "I'm Not Guilty" are top-drawer R&B-soul. The sub-par sax solo on "Not Guilty" is yet another unexpected sonic delight in the Ray-ology.

As best I can determine, these 21 tracks are all that Ray recorded--though I hope I'm proven wrong. The one James Ray song you know, "Got My Mind Set On You," is included with its two parts welded together.

Ray's songs were much-covered by the rock bands that came exploding out of England in the early 1960s. "If You Gotta Make A Fool of Somebody" and "Itty Bitty Pieces" have many renditions in the UK British Beat catalog. Maxine Brown, US soul-stress, did a nice version of "Fool" in 1967.

Nothing much is known about Ray, but the oft-weird intensity of the recordings speak for themselves. I love his languid, Charles-inspired take on Hoagy Carmichael's "Lazy Bones," and the Rudy Clark-penned modern morality tale "The Old Man and The Mule." Those two tracks show Ray at his vocal peak.

This is a large file... I opted to save the 21 songs as FLAC files. Please don't give me any flack about this. If you're using iTunes, just convert the files to AACs or MP3s, and you'll get a smaller (but probably lossy) version handy for your iPod, smart phone, or dumb camel.

Enjoy, and happy new year, holidays, noel, etc. etc. etc.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Links Are Fixed to All Posts...

I've ditched Rapidshare, which is a pathetic inept ghost of its former self. All links are re-upped on the highly dependable Box.com. They're great, and I hope they stay great.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Children of Sunshine - "Dandelions" - Lo-Fi Pre-Teen Folk-Psych from 1971--RE-UPPED 5/11/14

This post is a bit outside of the usual purview of Musenick, but (a) it's an extremely rare record (a St. Louis, Missouri private pressing of 300 copies) and (b) it's surprisingly good. Here's your chance to hear it str8 from one of those 300 copies, by going HERE. This is hosted by Box.com (as of 5/11/14).

The story of this unique album can be found online, HERE being a particularly good piece. This album will be reissued eventually, but you can smugly say, "oh, that old thing? Yes, I know alllllllll about it." Enjoy!