Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Len Chandler - To Be a Man & The Lovin' People

It's been a while, but to make up for the delay I'm posting 2 albums, both by Len Chandler and both released in 1967. They're also the only 2 albums he released under his own name. To Be a Man is my own recording but I have to thank blog reader Markus (for forwarding the other album to me) and his friend Steve for recording it.

Chandler was one of a number of African-American folk singers/songwriters who were performing during the 1960s, but with the exception of Richie Havens most of them aren't that well known today. Chandler was a classically trained musician (oboe was his first instrument) who didn't get interested in folk singing until he was in college. His first performance of folk songs were actually sung with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (he performed "Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair" and "Wayfaring Stranger"). He started writing songs for Broadside and got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and then got a record deal with Columbia. Among his compositions was the godawful novelty number "Beans in My Ears" as well as some songs written in support of the Black Panther Party. (You can check his full discography here, but other than a later e.p. and his work on the Credibility Gap comedy album, it doesn't go much beyond these 2 releases). He seems to have focused more on songwriting during the 1970s, and was a founder of the Alternative Chorus-Songwriters Showcase. He also moved to LA.

Of these 2 albums, To Be a Man, is the first and (to my ears) weaker of the two. It's a more traditional folk album, featuring him and his guitar, but is perhaps too traditional, and while I don't believe he cops any of the riffs here it does sound like a lot of other records you may have heard before. Chandler's faults as a perfomer are also more glaring--his vocals are often too formal and I, for one, wish he would loosen up a little (as he does sometimes on the other release). His guitar playing is fine but not exceptional, and his songs are also a bit generic at times. He's at his best here on bluesy, uptempo numbers like "Feet First Baby" (about an ornery natural-born fighter) and on the satirical "Hide Your Heart, Little Hippie.” When he tries to be poetic he meanders and the results are kind of confusing (as on “Shadow Dream Chaser Of Rainbows” which goes from images of “moths deep inside [him]” and the “fires [he's] been drawn to, to learn” to people following rainbows for an imaginary pot of gold, which really isn’t as valuable as a shadow because soulless people have no shadows, or something to that effect.

On The Lovin’ People, he has the benefit of a good backing band consisting of Pretty Purdie on drums, Artie Butler on organ & piano, and Joe Mack and Bill Salter on bass. The band, who play both loose and funky without ever sounding sloppy, helped produce a more laid back vibe and Chandler sounds more relaxed than he did on the earlier album. He has some better songs on this one, too, such as the title cut warm, poppy number about...well, “Lovin’ People,” on which the presence of a chorus (made up on the spot of people who had gathered to provide assistance to a mothers’ help organization) also helps temper Chandler’s unfortunate tendency towards over-earnestness. “The Naked Fool” is about a relationship gone bad, which doesn’t have anything new to say but will have a few toes tapping. “Sold Out, No More Reservations” is an interesting number about a male groupie, and “Bound to Fly” has a nice soaring quality, and Chandler’s lyrics and delivery mesh well on it. If anything the problem here is that Chandler is sometimes eclipsed by his backing band—check “Behind Your Eyes” where the band goes off on some nice free jazz-psychedelic tangents while Chandler seems to be trying to channel Sammy Davis, Jr.

Here's the tracklist for To Be a Man

  1. To Be A Man
  2. Feet First Baby
  3. Nancy Rose
  4. Bellevue
  5. Missionary Stew #2
  6. Keep On Keepin' On
  7. Shadow Dream Chaser Of Rainbows
  8. Hide Your Heart, Little Hippie
  9. Roll, Turn, Spin
  10. Time Of The Tiger
  11. Takin' Me Away From You Train
  12. Quittin' Time

And here's the list for Lovin' People

  1. Bound to Fly
  2. The Naked Fool
  3. The Lovin' People
  4. The Warmth of You Beside Me
  5. And Still I Dream
  6. Behind Your Eyes
  7. Touch Talk
  8. Sold Out, No More Reservations
  9. I Couldn't Keep From Carin' After All
  10. The Language of Love

To Be a Man was transferred from a mono copy of the album and the Lovin' People (apparently) from a stereo copy (at least the MP3s are encoded in stereo). The first album is encoded at VBR-extreme and the 2nd at 192k, and I've made available as one DL HERE. I hope you'll enjoy them.