1970 Week

Brinsley Schwarz

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

“Now all you London ladies, wonder where you’re at trying to make a country boy like me. I do declare that they think I’m a star, although I told them all I do is play guitar.”

1970 Debut Album

1970 Debut Album

If Brinsley Schwarz had been part of the great late 60s San Francisco rock flowering nearly everyone would know their name. But as it is, this exceedingly talented quartet spearheaded by a young Nick Lowe hailed from Tunbridge Wells, England, and perhaps might have lacked their lurking bittersweet character if they’d emerged in the California sunshine. Even so, Brinsley Schwarz – Lowe (bass, guitars, vocals, songwriting), Brinsley Schwarz (guitar, vocals), Bob Andrews (keyboards, vocals) and Bill Rankin (drums) – produced two albums in 1970 that match or better anything coming from Jefferson Starship, Moby Grape, Quicksilver Messenger and the like during the same period.

Their self-titled debut gives some credence to the U.K. hype that Brinsley Schwarz were the isle’s answer to The Band, a concise pleasure filled offering with rich, CSN tight harmonies, songs that straddle 60s optimism and 70s ennui, and a musical & lyrical maturity well beyond their years. They emerge a touch jaded, already weary of groupies before they’ve rightly scored any on “Rock And Roll Women (And Super-Straightmen)” but balancing that vibe with inducements to “Shining Brightly.” The balance is a mixture of curious miniature jams, distinctly West Coast rock grooving (zero problem imagining them opening for the Grateful Dead at The Fillmore), and pleasurably wistful character studies that’s not too far off from where Steely Dan arrived on their 1974 debut, a well-tempered buzz of mayflies and has-been beauty queens that’s held up remarkably well over the decades.

Year1970_Brinsley_Despite

Despite It All arrived a few months later in December and leans hard into a country-rock mood with the band more assured and polished than the debut – Brinsley Schwarz evolved quickly. Opener “Country Girl” is a near-perfect bit of AM gold that never found a home on American airwaves, and closer “Old Jarrow” could be a lost Randy Meisner gem from an early Eagles session. In between there’s the easy sway of “Funk Angel,” the Andrews’ penned “Piece of Home” and “Star Ship,” which declares, “You can stay on your starship, baby, but don’t be unkind to me” – a different time indeed. Perhaps loveliest of all is “Ebury Down,” which skips with melancholy dexterity foreshadowing Lowe’s intricately delicate solo work in the 2000s.

Lowe, as anyone paying even the slightest attention to rock in past four decades can tell you, went on to great work, including one of the finest debuts in rock history (his first solo full-length Jesus of Cool), one of rock’s greatest what-ifs (Rockpile), long running creative sparring with Elvis Costello (who covered the Brinsley Schwarz tune “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love & Understanding?” to good effect), and much more. The others have drifted in and out of music after Brinsley Schwarz, which soldiered on with some degree of success, a primarily U.K. known quantity, through the mid-70s before calling it quits. While associated with the 70s Pub Rock scene, Brinsley Schwarz clearly had more Trans-Atlantic ambitions coming out of the gate, and while little known, their first two albums remain some of the most enjoyable, well-crafted artifacts of the period.

A few keepers from these early albums.

1970 Week

Trapeze

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

“I’m a citizen of nowhere/ The sky’s above my head/ I wonder where the grass grows/ Looking through the sunshine/ ‘Til my judgment day.”

Year1970_Medusa

Medusa might be the best 70s hard rock album you’ve never heard. The second release from the newly minted Trapeze in 1970, listening to Medusa today loudly affirms its prescient vision, which mixes up the haymaker wallop of peers Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath with psych-tinged R&B reminiscent of The Sons of Champlin and Small Faces.

The trio of Glenn Hughes (bass, piano, vocals), Dave Holland (drums) and Mel Galley (guitar, vocals) are a seamless rush of tasty chops, dramatic singing, and sharp songwriting. Their take on heavy rock is largely fat free despite at least one track stretching past eight minutes, and the melodies as memorable and voluptuously appealing as anything Page & Plant mustered on their 1970 offering Led Zeppelin III. The vocals are downright sexy, right in line with what Paul Rodgers was doing in Free or Steve Marriott was up to in Humble Pie, and the production has presence and pop.

When Hughes started working with Black Country Communion a few years back it seemed like he’d finally gotten around to the unfinished business of Trapeze, which only lasted a few years (and a brief reunion in 90s) with this classic lineup. Swing, strut and substance is what Trapeze, particularly on Medusa, is all about, and if you’ve never experienced this under-heralded winner you’re in for a major revelation, children.

1970 Week

John McLaughlin

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

Year1970_Devotion

By 1970, rock had infiltrated the jazz world pretty rampantly, the overwhelming global cultural dominance of rock seeping into jazz both as an influence or as a force for the genre to define itself against, evident in the hard-nosed bop of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and the high-minded later work of Duke Ellington and other members of the old guard but equally prominent in the befuzzed jamming of Miles Davis and much of the Atlantic Records jazz roster at the time. However, the marriage of jazz chops and rock thinking rarely achieved such sublimely heady fruition as John McLaughlin third solo album, Devotion (1970), where the psychedelic revolution runs headlong into serious musical muscle and sincere spiritual attitude.

With Haight-Ashbury-esque song titles like “Don’t Let The Dragon Eat Your Mother,” “Purpose of When” and “Marbles,” Devotion is unabashedly cosmic, an Electric Kool-Aid ambience prevailing as these top drawer musicians jettison norms and explore with impunity and groove consciousness. McLaughlin is joined by Band of Gypsies drummer Buddy Miles, bassist Billy Rich (who was invited to play with Gypsies and later played with Taj Mahal and Paul Butterfield) and organ/electric piano player Larry Young, who make an intense, strangely beautiful racket together. It’s the kind of music that can induce involuntary flashbacks in acid aficionados, the world both more colorful and a touch more menacing as one swims in this sound.

That some of Hendrix’s last recordings include Young and carry echoes of this set is little surprise. Despite his demigod status now, Jimi Hendrix was very aware of the other major players on his instrument, expressing his admiration for folks ranging from Buddy Guy to McLaughlin to Chicago’s still-under-appreciated Terry Kath (legend has it that after seeing Chicago Transit Authority Jimi remarked to the band, “You know your guitar player is better than me, right?”). Devotion, with its blend of tradition and tradition-breaking, represents one of the trails Hendrix would likely have blazed if he’d survived. As it was, he passed away the same month as this record was released, and neither he nor McLaughlin ever ventured very far down this intriguing path. Still, there is the electricity and crashing invention of Devotion to stimulate our earholes and imaginations.

1970 Week

Michael Nesmith & The First National Band

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

“Has anybody here seen Jesus? He is gone from where I laid him down. He was always into helping people, and he asked me for a ride to town.”

Michael Nesmith and The First National Band

Michael Nesmith and The First National Band (Artwork on photo by Mike Myers)

Discussions of the late 1960s/early 1970s country rock movement frequently center around The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons’ brief solo output. It’s a limited view that even when expanded to include Poco, Eagles, Nitty Gritty Dirty Band and New Riders of the Purple Sage there are still usually two major notable absences: Goose Creek Symphony and the equally unheralded yet equally influential and pioneering Michael Nesmith & The First National Band.

Nesmith’s first post-Monkees band let the twang echoes of his earlier work take full flourish, the vision of a newfangled cowboy poet, the sort that had studied a few tumbling tumbleweeds while lysergically switched-on and perhaps pondered the cosmos after a freshly rolled number – the man himself once noted in a Monkees studio outtake, “That doesn’t smell like corn silk!” Joined by the core of The First National Band – O.J. “Red” Rhodes (pedal steel guitar), John London (bass) and John Ware (drums) – and supplemented by keyboardists Glen Hardin and Earl P. Ball, Nesmith delivered two stunning cross-pollinations just a few months apart in 1970 with this appealing mixture of tight, talented and loose-limbed players.

Year1970_Nesmith_Magnetic

Magnetic South arrived in July and saunters in with samba-Western swing hybrid “Calico Girlfriend,” as warm an invitation as one could want, and then proceeds to wander in a most organic way, Nesmith’s voice revealed without having to compete with the Monkees machinery, a kissing cousin to Buck Owens and the Grateful Dead, hip but also grandly hick, a philosopher in scuffed up boots with a top-flight bunch of shit-pickers at this back. The title loosely references the wandering point on Earth’s Southern Hemisphere but probably more likely directs listeners to the American South and its rich musical heritage as interpreted by this California contingent. With a personalized rag from Red Rhodes [Dirty Impound’s All-Time Fave-O-Rite Pedal Steel Player], a swoony ballad (“Joanne”), a swell cover of a 1930s hit (“Beyond The Blue Horizon,” covered to country-pop success four years later by Lou Christie), and more, Magnetic South is what one calls an auspicious debut.

Year1970_Nesmith_Loose

Loose Salute followed in November with the band’s collective confidence and personality more to the fore in a set that lets their freak flag wave a bit more freely. While still boot scootin’ gold, their sophomore effort is subtly weirder in the best of ways and the performances shimmer and kick with authority. If there were any expectations of Monkees style pop for Nesmith’s post-TV life they were surely dashed by Loose Salute, which was very much a piece with the expanded sonic horizons that the new FM radio format offered. There’s a bit more Latinismo (“Tengo Amore”), a boffo remake of a Monkees cut (“Listen To The Band”), a country barroom classic (“I Fall To Pieces”), a hopping tell-off ditty (“Bye Bye Bye”) and more treasures still on this end-to-end charmer, every bit the equal of Parsons’ over-praised GP and Grievous Angel, which didn’t reach the same musical territory for a few more years, begging the question of who influenced who.

The First National Band only lasted one more album, 1971’s Nevada Fighter, completing their “Red, White & Blue” trilogy, and for some diehard Nesmith fans (DI included) remains perhaps the most satisfying phase of Mike’s long, varied career (particularly if one tosses in the sarcastically titled Nez/Red 1972 duo album And The Hits Just Keep On Comin’). There was great swing and cosmic joy to these late 20th century twangers, which resulted in music that is that rarest of things – truly timeless.

For photos and other tidbits about this short-lived band, check out the fab First National Band Facebook Page.

A trio of selections from each album for yo’ enjoyment!

Cherry Poppin' Daddies

Huffin' Muggles

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They had my yarbles on a plate, two sickos from I’m sure the Garden State.”

DI approves of folks reviving antique slang, particularly the tea pad vernacular of the 1930s. From the reefer referencing title on, the new single from the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies offers up some choice bygone expressions in this cheeky drag drenched salute to Kenneth Anger. The song comes from the band’s new double album White Teeth, Black Thoughts (order here), which makes the Impound wanna share some gage with these aging well vipers.

1970 Week

Procol Harum

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

“I’ll blacken your Christmas and piss on your door/ You’ll cry for mercy, but still there’ll be more.”

If all you know is “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum then you’re overdue to discover one of the finest 60s/70s British rock outfits. Layered and cynical, the band always seemed older than their years, even right out of the gate. Wistful and dark-eyed, Procol Harum were spiritual cousins to The Kinks but musically as muscular as anything prog-rock had to offer on either side of the Atlantic in that same fertile era.

Year1970_Procol_Home

Their fourth album, 1970’s Home, took their jaundiced POV to a distressingly enjoyable new level. Opening with the electric blues attack of “Whiskey Train,” a harbinger of the solo work to come from original guitarist Robin Trower (who left the band after this album), Home weaves between sharp elbows and bittersweet simmer, naked baby grand piano alternating with gnashing guitars and switchback changes, a musician’s musician effort – fitting for a band that always seemed to aim at their peers as much as any audience in their artistic sensibilities. Non-performing lyricist Keith Reid burns hot and nasty here, affirming his place amongst more revered wordsmiths like Robert Hunter and John Perry Barlow. While its predecessor A Salty Dog is more widely known and celebrated, Home presents this band at their best, playing divinely and battling pissed-off melancholy Steely Dan wouldn’t get around to for a few more years.

Here’s a quartet of Home’s best tracks to whet yo’ appetite. But do yourself a favor and listen to the whole album in context and then work your way backwards through A Salty Dog (1969), Shine On Brightly (1968) and their 1968 self-titled debut to hear why Procol Harum is one of Dirty Impound’s All-Time Favorite Bands.

1970 Week

Seals And Crofts

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DI takes its role as edutainers seriously, and in that spirit we’re spotlighting great albums and choice cuts from 1970-1999 to edify our readers’ musical breadth of knowledge. Each week will focus on a single year and some of the sweetmeat it produced.

Seals and Crofts arrived a hellaciously good band just as the 60s crested into the stonier skipping malaise of 1970s. Working the fertile ground between Crosby, Stills & Nash and James Taylor, 1970’s sophomore album Down Home is radio friendly and back porch savvy, a pickin’ party with a lil’ electricity and a healthy dollop of sophistication. There’s oodles of standouts – DI especially digs “Hand-Me-Down Shoe,” “Cotton Mouth” and slamming, mandolin-driven opener “Ridin’ Thumb” included here – and those only familiar with S & C’s big hits later in the decade will be surprised at their chops, jazz inflections and roots credibility on this album.

We’ve given y’all the full road trip on this cut with the studio version, a King Curtis cover from 1972’s Everybody’s Talkin’, and a slammin’ live version of “Ridin’ Thumb” from the California Jam – dig the Nudie suit jacket and coke shades on Dash Crofts! And eat it String Cheese Incident’s Michael Kang: Dash blazed the distorted electric mando decades before you!

2013 XPoNential Music Festival

Saturday Mash-up

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“What you thought was a hurricane was just the rustling of the wind/ Why’d you think we need Amazing Grace just to tell it like it is?” – Dr. Dog

Few videographers capture the essence of a musical experience better than our man in Philadelphia Jake Krolick, who crossed the Delaware River to brave New Jersey to cover the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival. What separates Krolick from the pack is his foundation as a live music lover first, down to picking up on the surrounding atmosphere that dances with what’s happening onstage. His gift for brevity and well chosen moments is on display here with choice bits of the Wiggins Park on the Waterfront woven together with performances from The Last Bison, Dr. John, Lord Huron, Trampled By Turtles and Dr. Dog. Once again, Krolick allows us to dangle our toes in the experience even if we were far, far away at the time. For photos and Jake’s review of the fest pop over here.