From Addis Ababa To Brooklyn
By CHARLES ANDREWS
YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK
By its cover, they say. Probably mostly true. But album covers were a different story.
That was back in the day. When a lot of art could be packed onto a 12 x 12-inch space.
(As a lot of born-again vinyl junkies are now discovering.) And a lot of liner notes.
I learned most of what I know about the facts and details of music from liner notes, and from musician listings, pored over — who’s playing what, on which track.
When I whittled my collection of 7,000 LPs down a few years back (space considerations, in a small condo), I used mainly three criteria for keepers: the rarity, oddity or importance (including awesome excellence), the personal connection, and the album art.
In most cases limiting it to one or two, maybe three LPs, max, for any one artist. I was really draconian in the selection process.
I wound up keeping 1800 albums I couldn’t bear to live without. (And still shed a tear for those on the periphery that didn’t make the final cut.)
But it was different standard by which I plucked an LP from my stacks of promo copies, when I was an active reviewer, deciding which to take a chance on and play next.
Many criteria there, but a tipping factor was often, what label is it on?
THOSE DAYS ARE MOSTLY GONE
Of course, because record labels have become much less relevant in these days of indie music.
But they’re still around, and while the numbers of great small labels has shrunk, you can still sometimes tell an album by its cover, or should we say, publisher.
When I started in this meshugena business, Warner Bros./Reprise was one of the biggest labels, and also the best. Credit the leadership at the top.
Joe Smith and Mo Ostin guided them from the days of pop crooners like Bing Crosby and Sinatra through the creative late ‘60s and ‘70s, along with Lenny Waronker (later president) and Ted Templeman in production and A&R, and “Creative Director” and “King of the Liner Notes” Stan Cornyn.
Amazing, really, that such a corporate giant could be taken over by such a crazy crew of risk takers and visionaries.
(I once had a two-hour interview — his idea — with Waronker in his posh office in Burbank when I was working on a magazine piece about Beach Boy genius Brian Wilson and his first solo album ever.
I was impressed but skeptical when he told his secretary to “hold his calls” — yeah, right — but then his phone did not ring the whole time I was there.
A boyhood friend of Randy Newman, he was producing a long, very strange cinematic cut on Wilson’s album, and they wanted to pitch Brian to a younger, hipper audience as the out-there creative force that he was, not just some corpulent beach boy.)
GOOD NEWS IN THE MAILBOX
Front row concert seats and a cornucopia of music flowing through my mailbox, those were the days.
(But very little money, of course.) Great days for all music lovers because the creatives were in charge, not the suits. But to this day, there are still some labels that stand out as good bets.
One of them is Real World, founded by former Genesis frontman and big time humanitarian Peter Gabriel in 1989 to promote his blossoming love of world music, and still going strong.
Looking at their catalog and listening to a handful of new releases, I could cruise for a long time on nothing but Real World.
They are now re-releasing some of their “hit” albums from their 28-year history. By the likes of the great Pakistani Qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Afro Celt Sound System, LA heroes Dengue Fever and Ozomatli, Papa Wemba, Blind Boys of Alabama.
And, stunning young Ethiopian pianist Samuel Yirga, and his exciting Addis Ababa collective Dub Colossus.
These two discs have been occupying my music head the most lately, and I will tell you more about both releases next Thursday. Til then, just trust me, go get them.
I give them both an enthusiastic endorsement.
I have a small quibble or two with the newest release from a revered figure in American music, John McEuen.
“(Roots Music) Made in Brooklyn” — John McEuen (Chesky Records) To be fair, this
is almost entirely an excellent outing from the founder of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But the missteps grate on me.
John, you’re an icon of country folk, and so, to a lesser degree, is David Amram.
But his flute and pennywhistle mostly don’t work, in a mostly country context.
You were probably thrilled to find him (at 86) available for this recording, but you should have just had lunch and invited him to watch.
I’m fine with pushing musical boundaries, and while the clarinet works… pretty much, a bit of a N’Awlins touch, not the tooty flutes, please.
Another faux pas McEuen should surely be aware of by now: 10-minute story-songs, followed by another minute of just story, are things almost no regular listener wants to hear more than once or twice.
He did thankfully put them at the end, so maybe he’s saying, just stop after “Mr. Bojangles.
” Fair enough, but I’m really comfortable and don’t want to get up and walk across the room, okay John? We’re about the same age. You understand.
Warren Zevon’s “Dirty Life and Times” and “Excitable Boy”? Unusual, but they work. Love the nuggets like “She Darked the Sun” and Johnny Cash’s aching “I Still Miss Someone.”
I love New Grass Revival’s John Cowan’s voice, and David Bromberg’s, and Steve Martin’s (yes, that Steve Martin) banjo, and everything McEuen plays and sings.
Lose the flutes and the last two cuts and I would probably give it an A plus. God bless John McEuen. In a church in Brooklyn, no less. Oh, and sonic wizard David Chesky, who recorded this live to his superb hi-def standards.
RECOMMENDED: Sat., Walt Disney Concert Hall, as part of the Santa Monica-based Jacaranda Music series, “Opposing Natures: Music of Mark Grey & Dylan Mattingly” (John Adams proteges), approximately (?!) 5:30, as part of the Noon to Midnight: A Day of New Music, with pop-up performances throughout the hall by LA’s “top new music ensembles.” Food trucks! Beer! Only 10 bucks! Sounds like a great time.
LYRIC OF THE WEEK: “In your eyes, the light, the heat, in your eyes I am complete, in your eyes I see the doorway to a thousand churches” — Peter Gabriel (“In Your Eyes”)
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 31 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else
in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org