Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Jackie Washington - Morning Song (1967)

Jackie Washington has had a long and storied career that's still going strong today, and he has performed folk, blues, rock, jazz, and a little bit o soul, performing with the likes of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Clark Terry, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Lonnie Johnson, and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Jackie Washington was born in Ontario in 1919 and began performing at age 5, singing with The 4 Washington Brothers (the other 3 being his brothers Ormsby, Harold & Doc). By the early 60’s he had started playing folk music and made his way to Greenwich Village, signing soon after with Vanguard Records and appearing on their 1961 compilation New Folks (along with the Greenbriar Boys, Hedy West & David Gude). His first, self-titled solo album appeared in 1962. This was his 4th album and the last of his 1960s recordings. If you want more info on his Vanguard years, you can see a pretty complete discography of that era here.

This was his 4th album and the last of his 1960s recordings. While his first 3 albums featured him performing solo, on Morning Song he ventured more into pop and folk rock territory and was accompanied by Mitch Greenhill & John Nagy on electric guitars, Alvin Rogers on drums and Seldon Powell on alto, with some string accompaniments conducted by Felix Pappalardi.Washington is not remembered today by most Americans (Canadians may have a different perspective) as a top-tier folk artist but he was well known and respected in the early 60s folk scene. Supposedly Bob Dylan, even cribbed from Washington’s arrangement of “Nottamun Town” on the track “Masters of War.”

On the All Music Guide site, Richie Unterberger pans the album (as he does many albums it seems) complaining that the “songs are not good, moving, or very melodic, and his voice is pleasant but no more than adequate.” But while it’s not Dylan or even Fred Neil, I certainly find much to like about the record. There are some really excellent tracks here, including the mock-Dylan satire “Long Black Cadillac” (which Unterberger, ignoring the history between Dylan and Washington, calls a “silly-sounding Bob Dylan sound-alike”) and “A Night in June” (for which he has more appreciation). And while a few of the other tracks are certainly duds, the overall effect is entertaining and just different enough from the standard folk fare of the era to be worth a listen or more. But don't trust my review either, listen to the music and make up your own mind.
Here’s a tracklist:
1. Morning Song
2. Long Black Cadillac
3. Clouds
4. Harry The Rat
5. You Can't Buy Me Back
6. Well Taken Care Of
7. Lily Of The West
8. Phone Call
9. Blue Balloon
10. A Night In June
11. Hello, Anne
12. Esta Navidad

In the future, I hope to feature some other releases by African-American folk singers (I know, technically Washington is African-Caribbean-Canadian) like Leon Bibb and Casey Anderson. Next post, however, will be some cool late-60's pop music from Bill Tinker.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pollution - I (1971) & II (1972)

Pollution put out three albums of soulful rock in the late 60s/early 70s--the 2nd and 3rd of which (the most soulful) are presented here for your listening pleasure thanks to the kind contributions of two of your fellow blog readers. (Note: For others of you who have some hard-to-find MP3 copies of good music that is not in-print and never issued on vinyl, drop me a line if you want to see it posted here in like fashion).

Pollution was the brainchild of guitarist and songwriter James Quill Smith (aka Smitty), who appears to have organized the band and wrote a good deal of the songs they recorded. With most of the rest of their material written by other members of the group. On Pollution I, the band consisted of Dobie Gray (Percussion & Vocals), Ronnie Barron (Piano), Terry Furlong (Guitar), Jerry Jumonville (Saxophone), Dennis Kenmore (Percussion & Background Vocals), John Lambert (Bass & Vocals), Richard Lewis (Trumpet, Keyboards & Background Vocals), Christiaan Mostert (Flute, Keyboards, Saxophone & Background Vocals), James Quill Smith (Guitar, Harmonica & Vocals), Tata Vega (Percussion & Vocals), and Mike Reiley (Background Vocals). The lineup changed somewhat for Pollution II, most notably Dobie Gray was absent, but I don't have the full lineup for that one.

The band was managed by Max Baer Jr., son of the onetime World Heavyweight champion and the actor who played Jethro on the Beverly Hillbillies. This didn't appear to help their career as much as one might expect since, by all accounts, he was a lousy manager. He did better as a movie producer having put out some profitable gems like Macon County Line & Ode to Billie Joe.

James Quill Smith still performs and has a recent CD. Vocalists Dobie Gray (who appears on the 1st but not the 2nd of these) and Tata Vega (who appears on both) both went on to productive careers that continue to this day, and at least some of the other band members are still playing music as well. Pianist Ronnie Barron, in addition to his musical efforts, also went on to play the sleazy bartender in Steven Seagal's Above the Law.

Prophesy Records, which issued both of these albumes, was distributed by Atlantic that only had a few releases including a couple Kraut rock bands, a Clifton Chenier album & Quincy Jones' soundtrack for The Hot Rock--odd selection to say the least.

Interestingly, Pollution I won a Grammy for it's cover (done by Gene Brownell). It's a good cover but I like the one for Pollution II better. On the other hand, I prefer the music on the 1st one.

The music on both releases is soul-inspired rock with horns and occassional nods to country rock. I wouldn't call it psychedelic but it definitely draws on 60s era rock as well as period social concerns. The first album is is the funkiest of the two, in part because of the contribution of Dobie Gray, who has a much more soulful sound than the vocalists on the 2ns album.

The first album is in mono and encoded at 128 kbps. The second is at 192 kbps and is in stereo. Both have some clicks and pops and the first album was over-modulated, although I did lower the volume some distortion remains.

Tracklist for Pollution I
  1. Travelin' High (With the Lord)
  2. This Feelin' Won't Last Long
  3. Ballad of a Well-Known Gun
  4. Do You Really Have a Heart
  5. Dry Dream
  6. Underdog
  7. River
  8. Lo and Behold
  9. Mother Earth

& for Pollution II

  1. Hospitals
  2. Vegetable Soup
  3. Polly
  4. The End
  5. How Does It Feel
  6. Why
  7. Sharecropper's Blues
  8. Allen P. Ader
  9. Just the Way
  10. Foolhearted Woman

Get Pollution I here (m-fire) or here (r-share) & Pollution II here (r-share)

NOTE: There's a new recording of Pollution I up with better sound quality. If you enjoyed the album before, you should grab the new file.

Coming next is Jackie Washington's Morning Song album.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stephen Whynott - From Philly To Tablas (1977)

Here's a somewhat odd release that I think some of you will enjoy. I think it sometimes gets categoirzed as psych-folk but I think that's a bit misleading, there are definitely folky elements and some psychedelic or at least proggy ones too but there are also some jazz influences and the whole thing has a definite downer vibe. At times it reminds me of Tim Buckley, although Whynott's vocals are not in the same league.

The record appears to tell the story of a trip across the US, but it's a pretty uneventful trip. Whynott goes a few places, meets a few people, and manages to sound wistful about it all. There's a girl in Rock Springs who sings, then some flying without a plane, then some other woman who reminds him of a lioness, and then a trip into the mountains while it's raining. The lyrics are kind of trippy and a little annoying, at times, because they don't seem to be really saying anything. However, the overall effect works--you come away feeling something listless and removed.

The record does feature tablas as well as some other odd percussion. It was issued on the Music is Medicine Label in 1977. I haven't been able to find out much about Whynott but he did record four albums after this one: Apology to the Animals, Calico, Geography & Lost Land. Some of these you can pick up on CD if you search for them. This album is also available at a reasonable price.

One note: I'm not sure if I correctly assigned the Gamelan interlude between tracks 4 & 5 on side A to the correct location (with track 4). The Gamelan sound seems to come in again in track 5 but the only silence I could find was between the Gamelan interlude and track 5. The music is encoded as high quality variable bit rate MP3s and the file includes my own crappy photos of front & back covers. You can get it here. (I'm trying massmirror one more time since they seem to be up again & all of my attempts to post on sharbee failed).

I will be posting again this month, as a regular blog reader Mark has made his recordings of the two albums by the group Pollution (featuring Dobie Gray and others) available. My next post after that will likely be a Jackie Washington album (Morning Song) followed by the sole Bermuda Jam album.