Monday, June 18, 2007

CD Reviews: Rarities

Just back from Mexico City, where I attened the 8th Annual Media Ecology Conference. While there, I climbed some pyramids, ate at a restaurant that was in a cave and another that still had bullet holes in the celing put there by Pancho Villa, and presented a paper titled "Technology's Role in the Birth and Death of Rock and Roll". All very exciting.

Here is a new feature for FFanzeen, some reviews of records (and a tape) of rarities. I have never seen any of these releases elsewhere, so if you have, I'd love to have you comment on it. Or if you haven't, well, feel free to comment anyway.

I don’t remember where (garage sale?) in the Northampton, MA, area I picked up this cassette of JIM & JENNIE AND THE PINE BARONS’ DIY self-titled cassette, but I’m glad I did. This is a bluegrass jug band at its sitting-around-the-campfire best. There’s only six songs here, but each has a distinctive tune, and ranges from humorous {“Rattler”, about an old dog and rules to live by) to heartbreaking (“Sing Me Back Home”, an eve of execution tune), to both (“Don’t Shit on My Heart”). Jim Drewson (guitar) has a sort of goofy voice and Jennie Benford (mandolin) has more of a high, crunchy voice, and yet both sing together well in harmony, and also remain interesting on their own. There’s fiddles, banjos and a dobro that round out the sound. The cassette cover is originally both hand drawn and written. I wonder if they put out any more, because I sure would be interested. Hell, what I’d really like is to be sitting around that campfire listening to them.

While hanging out in Montpelier, VT, I came across this strange second hand store that had a very, very small music section. In this area was a box full of cassettes (25c) and CDs (50c) of a local company compilation called “Camsco Music Sampler One: Carrying on the Tradition”. I bought the cassette, and then went back and bought the CD next time I was in town. There are 16 songs by 8 artists, and each one a rare traditional folk gem. The song range includes covers from the Victorian period, the Civil War, to older British material (the Short Sisters doing a beautifully touching version of the classic “Bonnie Light Horseman”). Some standouts include “The Man Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” by the Aminons, “Pat Do This” by Jeff Warner and Jeff Davis”, the accapela “Heaven Will Protect the Working Girl” by Helen Schueyer, the rousing Cajun “La jeune mariee/L’homme a deux femmes” by Jeter Le Point, the miid-19th Century Americana “The Katie and the Jim Lee” and “Booth Shot Lincoln” by Jerry Epstein, and the rousing “From Where I Sit” by Anne Dodson. All 16 cuts are excellent, and if you can find this, definitely go for it.

Up in Kingston, Ontario, there is a furniture store that also sells used music. I picked up a number of great albums there in the 1980s, including this gem from the ‘60s. Put out by Vanguard (‘recordings for the connoisseur”), THE ALLEN-WARD TRIO (Craig Allen, Lynn Ward, Robin Ward) were Torontonians who played the Canadian folk circuit, and even performed at the Gaslight CafĂ© in NYC. All in their early 20s at the time of this recording, their style fits easily along with Ian & Sylvia and the Weavers. There a few standard covers here, like “East Virigina” and “The Trooper and the Maid”, but what is worth noting and what makes this LP stand out from every other sound-alike “Cumbaya” band from the period is their interpretations. “The Cuckoo” is done in sharp accapella, and there is an interesting treatment of “Leather Wing Bat”. They also do a rousing “No More Auction Block,” a slavery period song. Usually, when folk groups of this period did these kinds of numbers, it often felt like Pat Boone doing Little Richard. The A-WT give it depth and humanity. And most importantly, respect. There are also a number of then-newer songs covered from the likes of Tom Paxton, Gordon Lightfood, and Woody Guthrie (of course). Also present are a few original songs worth a listen, especially the heartbreaking “I Need a Friend”, possibly my favorite cut on the record. I don’t know what happened to them, anyone have a clue?

When I interviewed Tom Petty in 1976, just before his first album came out, the people at Shelter Records also gave me the LYONS & CLARK LP, “Prisms”. This is the only time I have heard of them, or saw any reference to them. That’s a shame, because they were great. Debbie Lyons and Pam Clark have a sound that’s somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins (“East of Eden” period), and their voices blend together in amazing harmonies. While the songs are singer-songwriter with a soft touch (lots of horns and strings), they never sound bland. The melodies are memorable, and the lyrics deep and heartfelt. I was just looking over the song list and trying to pick out faves, and it’s just not possible; this is a listen-to-all-the-way-through record. Yeah, it’s one of those get cozy in front of the fireplace with a cup of Earl Grey kind of sounds.

In a completely different vein, there’s MYKEL BOARD’s “Nothing But Record Reviews Bonus II: The Strange Transmissions Cassette” from 1989, which came with one of his magazines. Mykel is a New York hardcore fixture, from his writing for numerous fanzines, to his underrated sarcastic band, Art, The Only Band in the World (Art’s “Live in Carnegie Hall” is jaw-dropping fun). But this cassette is something in a world of its own. The first side is called “The Radio Interview”, which is someone (Mykel?) interviewing a 16 year old girl who is into having sex with dogs. The interviewer starts just about every question with “So…” This side is pretty forgettable, but it’s the second side that’s the gem, titled “M. Board’s Answering Machine (selections)”. These are calls that people left, and they range along death threats, insults, poetry, desperate people, and sex workers. The whole tape is short at less than 10 minutes each side. Meanwhile, I’m hoping Art rises from the dead.