The Wildest Guitar (Sepia Tone).
Though a relative unknown these days, Baker was a top-call NYC session
player throughout the 1950s. He is perhaps best known for his jazz
guitar method books, despite also being one half of the pop duo Mickey
& Sylvia, who scored a 1956 hit with Love is Strange.
Bakers pedigree belies the abandon of this 1959 instrumental guitar
record that veers from happy-go-lucky R n B instrumentals (Third
Man Theme, Midnight Midnight) to smoldering blues with
ominous, pre-psychedelic overtones (Lullaby of the Leaves)
to prescient (esp. for 1959) proto-surf freakouts (Old Devil Moon).
Unlike other guitar virtuosos of the period, Baker attacks even jazz standards
with a healthy degree of irreverence, never lets technical precision overshadow
the song, and isnt afraid to employ heaping doses of distortion
and tape echo for atmospheric effect, or maybe just for the hell of it.
This reissue confirms why Robert Quine and other connoisseurs of 50s
ephemera swear by Bakers playing. Sadly, Baker pulled a Nina Simone
and moved to France in the early 60s, after which his recorded output
dropped significantly. However, with the reissue of The
Wildest Guitar, Baker should finally get his due as one of early
rock & rolls premier guitar innovators.
Hello Trouble (Audium).
Nearly half a century ago, before the Dallas Sportatorium was known solely
as a sort of Valhalla for devotees of minor-league wrestling, it was also
the home of the Big D Jamboree. The Jamboree was Texas answer to
the Grand Ole Opry, and they probably didnt even have to remove
the chicken wire between events. Regulars at the Jamboree knew Texas crooner
Orville Couch well, though sadly few others do. This 1963 LP is solid
if occasionally unremarkable honky-tonk that at its better moments goes
toe to toe with Buck, Merle, George Jones et al. Standouts include the
title track and a snappy cover of Johnny Hortons Honky Tonk
Stingray (Fat Possum).
If the pictures on the album sleeve are any indication, longtime RL Burnside
sideman and adopted son Brown is one hard-living gent. Here
Brown conjures enough genuine ex-con badness to give the impression that
hes been placed on earth to carry out a singular goal: track down
each and every current practitioner of lame white blues, put em
out of their misery, steal their cars, and take off with their girlfriends
in tow. As Brown sums it up in the on the murder ballad All I Want:
I guess I just dont like folks like I should. Although
Brown is known as a slide guitar ace, theres not a single long-winded
solo to be found here. Instead, Brown is content to ramble, workman-like,
through a streamlined, compelling set of tunes, many of which are adaptations
of traditional arrangements and Burnside covers. This disc is essential
listening for anyone who needs convincing that the blues can be saved
from the twin evils of pointless guitar wank and stylistic inbreeding.
Added bonus: If Down Was Up is the best Stones song since
Start Me Up, at least.
Cooder & Manuel Galban,
Mambo Sinuendo (Nonesuch).
The mainstream success of Cooders 1997 Buena Vista Social Club project
may tempt some to draw comparisons to certain nameless high profile pop
artists-turned cultural imperialists. But Cooders been crafting
inspired multi-ethnic genre experiments since his Tex-Mex cum Hawaiian
cum Delta blues excursions on 1976s Chicken
Skin Music, and on this record he continues to walk the walk. Here,
Cooder and Cuban electric guitarist Galban team up to record radiant,
occasionally spooky, (mostly) instrumental versions of Cuban pop songs
from the 50s and 60s. The playing is remarkably understated
given the level of musicianship, and Cooders otherworldly slide
and steel work meshes nicely with Galbans dense polyrhythmic single-note
figures. The result is telepathic twin-guitar interplay of the first order,
coming across at times like 1992-vintage Verlaine & Lloyd exiled in
a banana republic. Highly recommended.
American Song-Poem Anthology
Whats a Song-Poem? Well, once upon a time all you had to do was
locate a popular magazine and youd find a number of ads seeking
submissions from fledgling songwriters with vague promises of fame and
riches. The racket: plenty of credulous folks are willing to send in a
poem, and then pay some polyester-clad geek a few hundred bucks in seed
money to have their own song-poem hastily recorded by
a bunch of struggling studio hacks in assembly-line fashion. The record
company then forwards the poor sap a few acetates of the final product,
accompanied by additional vague promises of promotional activities, riches,
etc. And then, of course - nothing, save for the cashing of the check.
Such artless methods would hardly seem to warrant their own (audible,
at least) anthology. But somehow even almighty Mammon could not prevent
the occasional genuinely insane entry from slipping through the cracks
and eliciting inspired accompaniment from the studio chain gang, despite
the best (worst?) intentions of all involved. Happily, this comp has sorted
the chaff - and oh, what volumes of chaff there must have been - leaving
a surprisingly listenable collection of odes to certain core American
values. One gets: moral guidance re the sowing of ones oats (Do
You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brush?); comical (perhaps
unintentionally so) takes on Scott Walker/Jacques Brel-styled orchestral
pop (Breakdown of Human Absurdity); helpful lessons on the
redundancy of pornography (All You Need Is a Fertile Mind);
Richard Nixon (Richard Nixon); Jimmy Carter (Jimmy Carter
Says Yes); the lament of a honcho wrangler (I
Lost My Girl to an Argentinian Cowboy); and of course, the immortal
Blind Mans Penis, proving once and for all that art
shall triumph over commerce, once it pays its own ransom.