Richard Thompson  Daring Adventures  1986   Polygram

Following a two decade stint of recording in his native England, Daring Adventures would mark Richard Thompson’s first attempts at capturing his sound across the pond.  Before leaving for the states, Richard stuffed his suitcase with many of the sonic trademarks and mannerisms that he had previously honed with both Fairport Convention, his wife Linda Thompson, and on his expanding solo catalog.   It’s all there: the biting and ballsy guitar leads, the dry English wit, and his perpetually engaging storyboard songs (ie - “Al Bowlly’s In Heaven”). Though this album was firmly rooted in the 80’s, he aptly avoided the synthetic trappings of the time, instead surrounding his single coil strat and husky tenor with dulcimer, mandolin, and organ.  Aiding Richard are a cast of American studio musicians, including the great Jim Keltner (drums, Bob Dylan et al) and Jerry Scheff (bass, Elvis Presley, The Doors) rounding out the rhythm section.

These days, as a spry 64 year old, Richard maintains an active touring schedule while rotating between full band and solo performances. Those lucky enough to see him at one of his solo-acoustic gigs will be rewarded with fanciful fretwork, a diverse setlist, and some big belly laughs.  Richard has perfected his delivery of between song banter to the point where it’s unapparent whether one is attending a music concert or comedy show.  Ever the crowd pleaser, he has even been known for duly accepting the requests that are shouted out from the peanut gallery.   

Herbie Hancock  The Spook Who Sat By The Door (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)   2010  United Artists

Who would have thought that this honky cat would be into  blacksploitation soundtracks?  Truth be told, my favorite furry friend frequently practices the fine art of photo-bombing.  

This modern day reissue of the soundtrack to the 1973 film features Herbie Hancock at the helm.  The mix is rather cloudy and compressed, and not the finest representation of Herbie’s funk-fusion era (check out Headhunters or Thrust for that).  Those that are sensitive to racial epithets are advised to steer clear of this record as well, as the scattered bits of dialogue on the record freely let the “N” word fly.  The plot of the film traces a Korean War vet’s journey from pacifism to militarism, who eventually assembles a guerilla army culled from the ghetto in preparation for an urban war of liberation (from the album back).  

Black Sabbath Sabotage  2012  NEMS

While void of many of the FM radio staples that Black Sabbath had built a legacy upon in the early 70’s (ie- “Paranoid”, “Iron Man”, etc.), Sabotage shows the band exercising creative freedom.  Without abandoning their skullcrushing hooks of yore, the album’s 7 tracks featured experimentation through complex song arrangements, stark meter shifts, and eclectic instrumentation that up until this time was unique to Sabbath.  Spanish guitars, a male vocal chorale, and classical strings all make unexpected appearances.  Tony Iomi (guitars) recalled in his autobiography one particular episode that demonstrated how this shift in approaches confused one Mr. Ozzy Osbourne (vocals). While recording, the London Philharmonic Choir was brought in to perform on the album. When Ozzy arrived at the studio and saw them, he thought he entered the wrong studio and left!

This modern day reissue, courtesy SoundStageDirect was pressed in cobalt blue vinyl, and meshes perfectly with my turntable of the same hue.  While this release doesn’t offer much in the way of album art extras (lyrics, inserts, etc.), the sound is pristine and devoid of any surface noise or imperfections… exactly the way newly pressed vinyl should be.  

Fleetwood Mac   Dragonfly/The Purple Dancer  2014   Reprise
Formed out of the ashes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the late 60’s, the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, led by Peter Green, created music that slotted in nicely alongside other British blues contemporaries The Yardbirds and Cream.  Green’s sudden departure in 1970 due to mental illness would set the revolving door in motion, as Fleetwood Mac’s front lines (and sound) would change a handful of times before finally settling on the wildly successful combination of Buckingham-Nix-McVie in 1975.  This 7” single features the work of Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals), who would be one of the forgotten frontmen of Fleetwood Mac (along with Jeremy Spencer and Bob Welch) while the band was trying to gain traction following Green’s departure.  Dragonfly/The Purple Dancer failed to make a dent in the charts upon original release in 1971, though the A side was considered by many (including Green) to feature some of Danny Kirwan's most inspired songwriting and guitar playing.   
This Record Store Day 2014 special release had initially eluded me on the big day.  It wasn’t until a follow-up trip to RockItMan Records that I stumbled upon this little beauty in the RSD leftover bin.  Singles are not my forte, as my turntable (Pro-Ject Debut Carbon) requires me to manually change the speed via removing the platter and shifting the drive belt.  However, it’s nice having a small stack of 7”s to digest during moments when my long-range attention is challenged.

Fleetwood Mac   Dragonfly/The Purple Dancer  2014   Reprise

Formed out of the ashes of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in the late 60’s, the first incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, led by Peter Green, created music that slotted in nicely alongside other British blues contemporaries The Yardbirds and Cream.  Green’s sudden departure in 1970 due to mental illness would set the revolving door in motion, as Fleetwood Mac’s front lines (and sound) would change a handful of times before finally settling on the wildly successful combination of Buckingham-Nix-McVie in 1975.  This 7” single features the work of Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals), who would be one of the forgotten frontmen of Fleetwood Mac (along with Jeremy Spencer and Bob Welch) while the band was trying to gain traction following Green’s departure.  Dragonfly/The Purple Dancer failed to make a dent in the charts upon original release in 1971, though the A side was considered by many (including Green) to feature some of Danny Kirwan's most inspired songwriting and guitar playing.   

This Record Store Day 2014 special release had initially eluded me on the big day.  It wasn’t until a follow-up trip to RockItMan Records that I stumbled upon this little beauty in the RSD leftover bin.  Singles are not my forte, as my turntable (Pro-Ject Debut Carbon) requires me to manually change the speed via removing the platter and shifting the drive belt.  However, it’s nice having a small stack of 7”s to digest during moments when my long-range attention is challenged.

Downtown Music Gallery  13 Monroe St., New York, NY

Last Memorial Day, while exploring the streets of New York City’s Chinatown with wife and friends, I flew a sorty over to Downtown Music Gallery.  Without Yelp, I would have never stumbled upon this indy record shop located on the footstep of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, as the basement level storefront is non-suspect.  Upon arrival, it was quickly apparent that this shop was small in space, but huge in heart.  Any shop that has devotes a bin to prog deserves a freedom medal, at the very least.  The co-proprietor Bruce Lee Gallanter, wowed me with his musical acumen.  Upon discussion of an obscure latter-day release by Caravan, he caught my mistep as I referred to Dave and Richard Sinclair as brothers.  ”Cousins.” he exclaimeed  “I know the Canterbury scene”.  With only a few minutes to spare, I grabbed a short stack of vinyl delights (including the said Caravan release), and returned to ground level.

Visit this link to learn more about Downtown, including some of the eclectic performances hosted in the store, courtesy the New York Times.

Sun Ra and his Arkestra   Jazz in Silhouette  2010  Saturn

Sun Ra:  A visionary disciple for afrofuturism, or a shrewd self-promoter?  Born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama, he would go on to lead a controversial and simultaneously prolific career as a crossover jazz artist and “cosmic philosopher”.  His outlandish costumes and claims of having originated from Saturn earned him many a curious onlooker, which resulted in a drastically elevated profile outside the jazz world and included feature films, a Rolling Stone cover, and performances on Saturday Night Live.

Jazz In Silhouette features Sun Ra and cohorts whilst inhabiting a farily conservative brand of swing and big-band jazz.  Recorded in Chicago in 1959, this performance predated his stint in New York in the 60’s which resulted in more experimental, synthesized sounds and avant-garde approaches to music.  Sun Ra himself is in fine melodic form as he meanders across the ivories, though it’s not until the final track of the collection, “Blues At Midnight”, that the music begins to mesh with the intergalactic allusions of the cover art.  It is then that the Arkestra finally does venture into martian landscapes, hinting at some of the psychadelic, spacey jazz that would follow upon his eventual arrival in New York. 

(this passage is taken from the jacket back)  ”About the Cover: In Tomorrow’s World, men will not need artificial instruments such as Jets and Space Ships.  In the world of Tomorrow the new man will ‘think’ the lace he wants to go, then his mind will take him there.  This cover is a view of on of the moon’s of SATURN, taken about 300 space miles up.”   (the art is mysteriously credited to ‘Evans’)

Robert Fripp  Exposure     1979   E.G.

When Robert Fripp (guitar, gadgetry) disbanded his prog juggernaut King Crimson in 1974, he occupied himself in a variety of pursuits.  He dabbled in music production (Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall), practiced studio wizardry at the side of Brian Eno (innovating Frippertronics: dual reel-to-reel tape looping), and kept his fingers moving along the fretboard within a vibrant New Wave scene in Hells Kitchen, NYC. Exposure  is a grab-bag of those quests, sounds and experiments.  He utilizes a full supporting cast that employs both Gabriel and Hall on lead vocals, along with a delirious sounding Peter Hamill (Van Der Graaf Generator), and Terry Roche, who ably channels Joni Mithcell in the jazzy, bare “Mary”.  As always, Fripp’s edgy, circuitous guitar work forms the crust of much of the album, though there’s also serene examples of  the aforementioned Frippertronic soundscapes (“Water Music”), and even some boogie-woogie piano riffage (“You Burn Me Up I’m A Cigarette”).  It’s plain to see/hear how this collection links the previous incarnation of Crimson with the soon-to-be resuscitated lineup that spawned Discipline. 

Nearly half of the albums 17 cuts clock in under 2  1/2 minutes.  None of the remaining tracks make it to the 5 minute mark, which is unusual considering Fripp’s previous penchant for longform pieces with Crimson (“Larks Tongue In Aspic”, “Fracture”, etc.).  Ever the perfectionist, Fripp remixed and re-released this set in 1985 with alternate and extended takes.  My copy contains the original tracklisting and was snagged at Bookmans, Flagstaff for about 3 bucks.   

Weather Report  Black Market   1976  CBS

My feelings are certain about the music (dig it!), but as for the cover art they are mixed.  Dave McMacken (who designed art for Frank Zappa,The Beach BoysCheech & Chong et al) has definitely got a nice touch with cartoons, and this busy cover is no exception.  My issue is that the music within sounds so unfamiliar to the African village scene on the front.  The music is festive for sure, though it carries a fairly futuristic synthetic vibe, and hardly mirrors that of the pastoral community depicted on the jacket.  The artifact noise on the record (bookending “Barbary Coast”) includes sound footage of a train passing through town.. Why not a jeep full of townsfolk rambling past camel and a fruit cart (as shown)? 

Still, these are jazz-fusion superheroes flexing their muscles: Joe Zawinul (keys) is featured prominently;  Wayne Shorter (sax) is his usual, bitchin’ self; Chester Thompson (drums) rode along as he was in between stints with Frank Zappa and Genesis.  New recruit Jaco Pastorius (bass) slides his fretless right into the pocket on a trio of tracks.  Overall, the Weather Report says its a nice day to head on out and visit the Back Market.

Catfish   Get Down   2012(?)   Epic

If one finds themselves reminiscing on some of the great American blues masters, Detroitonian Bob Hodge (aka “Catfish”) is likely not one of the first names that would come to mind…. nor should he be.  However, he is pretty fly for a white guy, and the quinted he fronted in the late 60’s - early 70’s managed to release at least this one inpsired set of swampy, rambling jams.  

The woodcut cover stylings mirrored the work done on Stand Up, the sophomore release from my musical man-crush Jethro Tull.  While that prompted me to pick up this album, the infectuous, bluesy boogies kept me at the river’s edge.   When noodling for new tunes, one could do a heck of a lot worse than this Catfish.

Richie Havens   Stonehenge  1970  Stormy Forest

August 15, 1969.  As the roads leading to Yasgur’s farm were at an impasse, Richie Havens was summoned to regale the restless masses of the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.  He and his sparse backing band were airlifted via helicopter onto the stage, and opened the revolutionary festival with an improvised and impassioned 3 hour set.  Hot on the heels of that breakthrough performance, Richie released Stonehenge, a collection of originals and covers that feature lush instrumental backing, including orchestral strings, sitar, and dobro.  The originals speak directly to the hippy ethos of the day, look no further for hints of the free-love zeitgeist than the tracks “There’s A Hole In the Future” and “Shouldn’t We All Be Dancing”.  The covers include tunes penned by Bob Dylan (“It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”) and The Bee Gees (“I Started a Joke”).    

Richie’s unorthodox guitar technique involves alternate tunings (open D) and a heavy reliance on his thumb to produce barre chords up and down the fretboard.  Guitar enthusiasts can read more about his unique approach by following this link from his website.   

Doctor Hook & The Medicine Show  Self-Titled   1971

Doctor Hook is probably most identifiable for their (they are a band, not a person) prophetic novelty song “Cover of Rolling Stone”.  They’d gotten their first actual cover issue as a band caricature a mere 4 months after the single’s release.  An overlooked factoid is that poet-absurdist Shel Silverstein penned many of the groups earliest tracks, including “Cover of Rolling Stone”.  That ditty ‘aint on this set, though plenty of other dirt-rockin’ boogies are, including one of the earliest Silverstein-Hook collaboration, “Syliva’s Mother”.

The visual image of Doctor Hook for me (and likely many others), was the eye-patch & cowboy hat wearin’ Ray Sawyer, who was in truth just a part-time vocalist for the band.  In many cases, his gravely voice accurately parrots (intentionally or otherwise) Captain Beefheart, lending an aura of silliness to the music.  Primary vocalist Dennis Locorriere lends his soulful, earnest pipes to the majority of the album cuts, and on these occasions is when I feel pulled in to Doctor Hook.   Not a bad find from The Re-Collector's used bin in Schenectady, NY.

Linda Rondstadt   Hasten Down the Wind  1976   Asylum

Pardon my chauvinism for a moment, though for the most part, female fronted rock bands just don’t do it for me.  I can count on one hand the number of female fronted acts whose work consistently tickles my musical fancy  (Heart, Kate Bush, Fleetwood Mac, Steeleye Span, Joni Mitchell).  As a self-ascribed political (and musical!) progressive, I’ve consciously sought out other female rockers for inclusion in a male-dominated collection.  Along the way I’ve picked up some Mavis Staples, Alabama Shakes, and now Linda Rondstadt.  Not coincidentally, Linda spent much of her storied career pushing back against gender stereotypes in the rock sphere.  I’ve had a harder time embracing Linda’s work due to her reliance on being a (terrifically gifted) performer more than as a songcrafter.  In fairness to Linda, she actually branches out of her box as singer to compose a whopping two tracks on this record (“Try Me Again” and “Lo Siento Mi Vida”).  Her vocals are sterling, as always, never moreso than on the Warren Zevon penned title track.

In recent years, Linda’s career has sadly succumbed to the effects of Parkinson’s disease, as she has been forced to retire from singing altogether.  On a happier note, she was just enshrined into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the only female among a class of 9 inductees. 

The Alan Parsons Project  Tales of Mystery and Imagination  1976  20th Century
Hot on the heels of having engineered Pink Floyd's behemoth Dark Side of the Moon,  Alan Parsons sought to carve his own name into the mid-70’s prog monolith.  He teamed with session musician Eric Woolfson (piano, vocals), who had recently completed his own work inspired by the gothic yarns of Egar Allan Poe.  Inertia kept them moving in a direction that gelled Poe’s macabre imagery against a Floydian backdrop of spacey, stoner rock.  
There’s a maniacal slant to the vocals,helped by the recruitment of Arthur Brown, who belts out “The Tell Tale Heart” in convincing fashion.  Other vocal contributors include British actor Leonard Whiting (who played Romeo to Oliva Hussey's Juliet in the 1968 film adaptation) on “The Raven”.
The album was remixed on CD a dozen years after its initial vinyl release, and included a dramatic Orson Welles voiceover laid atop the album opener, “A Dream Within A Dream”.   

The Alan Parsons Project  Tales of Mystery and Imagination  1976  20th Century

Hot on the heels of having engineered Pink Floyd's behemoth Dark Side of the Moon,  Alan Parsons sought to carve his own name into the mid-70’s prog monolith.  He teamed with session musician Eric Woolfson (piano, vocals), who had recently completed his own work inspired by the gothic yarns of Egar Allan Poe.  Inertia kept them moving in a direction that gelled Poe’s macabre imagery against a Floydian backdrop of spacey, stoner rock.  

There’s a maniacal slant to the vocals,helped by the recruitment of Arthur Brown, who belts out “The Tell Tale Heart” in convincing fashion.  Other vocal contributors include British actor Leonard Whiting (who played Romeo to Oliva Hussey's Juliet in the 1968 film adaptation) on “The Raven”.

The album was remixed on CD a dozen years after its initial vinyl release, and included a dramatic Orson Welles voiceover laid atop the album opener, “A Dream Within A Dream”.