Tony Coulter here, with another parcel of vinyl goodies found since moving to Portland, OR late last summer. This time 'round, I'll be heavily focusing on soft sounds for mellow jello -- though righteous anger also makes an appearance. As always, I'll finish up with some eye candy -- or eye vegetables, if you prefer -- in this case, a mini-gallery of strange record covers.
Ann Hess: Joy Fulfilled (Silent Seed Records, 1974)
Let us commence with one of the countless religious rock/folk records still filling thrift store bins around the country -- a surprising number of which are actually worth hearing, at least for a track or two. The 1974 album Joy Fulfilled, recorded in Monterey, California, features Ann Hess's Joan Baez-esque vocals, and above-average (for the genre) musicianship and production. The stand-out track, to these ears, is the gently swinging rural rocker "The Light of My Life," written by Hess and featuring the guitar work of Woodie Barr. The distant-sounding vocal overdubs even give this fine cut a mildly psych feel.
Spreading the joy:
Various Artists: People Got to Be Free (FourMost, 1972)
Next up is another xian (i.e., "religious") record found in the same thrift store -- on, I believe, the same day. This one is a comp, mostly of bands on the FourMost label. My favorite track is, oddly, taken from an album on another label: Anodyne Records (perhaps a FourMost subsidiary?) In any case, the cut in question, recorded by the intriguingly named Random Sample, is a cover of "Look to Your Soul" -- initially made semi-famous by Johnny Rivers. My favorite cover of the tune is by Bill & Ron Moore, but Random Sample also do a commendable job, giving it a harmony/sunshine pop spin that brings to mind the Mama & the Papas or Free Design, while maintaining an appropriate solemnity.
The Random Sample: s/t (Anodyne Records, 1972?)
Ron Sparks: Make Her Remember (Guinness Records, 1977)Passing from sincere expressions of religious belief to the shady dealings of mob-connected label honchos, we consider next the first of two tax-scam releases, both on the Guinness label. Around 1976 a number of record company executives figured out that they could come out ahead if they took a tax write-off on releases that lost money. They created bogus subsidiary labels which hurriedly released a barrage of LPs that were meant to tank. These LPs were cobbled together from (mostly) unreleased tracks pilfered from god knows where, and were generally issued without the permission or knowledge of the artists. Tracks could be blatantly unfinished -- even stopping dead in the middle -- or wildly inconsistent in style or vintage, or even be by completely unrelated musicians, lumped together under a made-up name. Amazingly enough, given such shenanigans, some of these tax-scam releases are actually quite good. The best I've heard so far is by Ilian, but I have found some other good ones. The first of the two tax-scam releases I'll share with you here is by one Ron Sparks, and is largely disappointing country pop -- barring the first track, a pleasant, if slightly oily singer-songwriter confection that may or may not even be by the same person responsible for the rest of the album. The accent sounds different to me! In any case, the track is below. For more on tax-scam releases, see this interview with the "acknowledged expert," Aaron Milenski: http://www.shit-fi.com/interviews/AaronMilenski.
California: s/t (Soundtrax Records, 1981?)
Heading even deeper into smooth AOR territory, we turn next to an album by the trio named California -- recorded, appropriately enough, in California, probably in 1981. Not sure if the irony is intentional, but the cover shot suggests that the band consisted of three rather pale individuals who didn't go in much for fun in the sun; they seem, in fact, to be in hiding. In any case, the tune I've chosen, "Comin' On Strong," has a strange appeal -- despite the surface sheen, there's something deeper at work here, a kind of awkward beauty and a streak of sadness.
Scoop Nisker: Scoop's Last News Show (Home of the Hits, 1977)
Next up is a very good political comedy album from one Scoop Nisker, who excels at the collage method pioneered by Dickie Goodman. While I heartily recommend the entire album, I've chosen to give you the odd track out: a pretty, if pointed song written by Phil Marsh and performed by the band Energy Crisis. Marsh, whose lead vocals and lead guitar grace the tune, is the gentleman in front in the picture below.
Red Star Singers: The Force of Life (Paredon, 1974)
Moving further leftward, we turn to a release by the Brooklyn label Paredon, which specialized in overtly political releases housed in jackets that looked exactly like Folkways album, down to the cardboard "dividers" separating disc and booklet. While they had their share of tiresome Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie clones, they also had some musically fine acts. My favorite Paredon group is the Covered Wagon Musicians, but at their best Berkeley's Red Star Singers are pretty great too. The lyrics of the song I've chosen, "Vietnam Will Win!," are strikingly relevant to our current batch of wars -- and give comfort by reminding me that, yes, sooner or later, Iraq and Afghanistan will indeed win.
Singing for the Red Star:
Sonny Bottari: Never Look Back (Guinness, 1977)
Shifting into reverse, I'll conclude the audio portion of this post with a second tax-scam release -- quite a nifty one, in fact. Sonny Bottari was the lead singer for the Long Island band Aesop's Fables, who put out the album In Due Time on the Cadet Concept label in 1969. Bottari is a fine vocalist, with a white soul sound I don't usually care for, but that he excels at. The tunes I've picked out were both written by N. Marchaiano, whoever he is: The first, "Sader Man," is a driving cut that reminds me a bit of Iron Butterfly; the second, "Ghost Hall," is nicely spooky. Wonder if Sonny even knew this one was released?
Let's close with a few choice album covers. I'll just mention that A Gift of Love uses the same generic cover art as a self-titled psych classic by Fapardokly, and leave you to look.
Slawa Przybylska: Spiewa Koncert Zyczen (Melodia Record Co., 196?)
Michael Wendling: Who Could Eat at a Time Like This (Sheepeater Records, 1977)
Art: John Hanson
The Mora High School Concert Choir: A Gift of Love (Mark Custom Records, 197?)
Georg Kreisler: Liebeslieder am Ultimo (Intercord, 1979)
Art: Irene M.
Cardenales del Exito: Volvio el Negrito (Discomoda, 1973)
Willie Lynch Trio: Divil Is Dead (??, 197?)
That's it for now -- see you in two weeks' time....