Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Heights of Record-Nerdery

Being a collector makes you do crazy things, like buy an expensive Japanese-only Live album by a group that you don't even particularly like just because it happens to have your all-time favorite Brazilian pianist on it. Yes, that's right . . . João Donato is playing on this 1970 live album recorded in Japan. I heard about this album from the man himself when I had the chance to interview him. He explained that Bossa Rio's regular piano player could not get a visa to play the 1970 Expo show in Japan and that Sergio Mendes (Bossa Rio's founder and manager) asked Donato if he would play the show. Knowing Donato, he was probably broke and looking for work, so he jumped at the gig. But step back for a second and consider that Donato is one of THE fathers of Bossa Nova and Sergio, surely, was an early fan and owed a great debt to the man and now he was playing nearly anonymous piano in Sergio's second-tier band.

Here we see Donato in the middle of the band, injecting his unique style of playing into any setting. I've picked three songs form this pretty-darn-nice Live album. Donato shines more on the second two, though this being a "pop" band, there was not much room for soloing. Though the story goes that the owner of Blue Thumb records signed Donato for an album based on his economic, yet moving playing from this performance. The resulting album would be his lone album on Blue Thumb, "A Bad Donato".

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - Irene
A fresh, bossa-fied take on the great Caetano tune that had been released within the year.

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - What a Pity (Que Pena)
A cool english language version of this classic Jorge Ben tune.

Bossa Rio (Featuring João Donato) - Quem Diz Quem Sabe
This is the lone Donato composition on the album and one of the only in songs in Portuguese.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Songs That Don't Suck

Jamie, the woman formerly known as my girlfriend and now known as my fiance/beyonce, LOVES her some x-mas music. It was almost a deal-breaker when she admitted as much after I caught her singing along to the 24hr x-mas music radio station during our first holiday season as a couple. But as all healthy couples do, we found a compromise.

We can listen to holiday music together beginning the day after Thanksgiving, but she humors me by letting me pick the music (most of the time). Now, this is where the challenge comes in, because even some of my favorite musicians have made horrible x-mas records; or more accurately, most of my favorite musicians wouldn't be caught dead rehashing the x-mas cannon, or god-forbid contribute an original tune to the bloated roster of yule tunes. But I persevere . . . and with tongue firmly planted in cheek, embark on a mission to bring you some Christmas songs that don't suck.

Stevie Wonder - Christmas Greeting
This is a greeting recorded by Stevie in his 70s keyboard phase (clearly). He probably didn't even rehearse this and just freestyle busted it out . . .

National Lampoon - Kung Fu Christmas
This is the real gem in this batch. Big-ups to Mike in Seattle for tipping me off to this one. I don't know much about the National Lampoon LPs, but this guy does. Most importantly, it was written by National Lampoon Radio Hour regular Christopher Guest and Paul Shaffer. Watching/listening to this video also gives the longer intro to give you a sense of how this song was situated on the album.

Paul McCartney - Wonderful Christmastime
Now this one might be overplayed, but I still love it. Its probably one of the best recent additions to the Christmas cannon and I don't care what the rest of you say. Knowing that Paul was probably stoned to the bone from smoking too much mistletoe also makes it more enjoyable to listen to. I wrote a piece in Wax Poetics (issue 31) about another song from this same recording session. Blog entry here. Actual pdf of article here.

The Roger Saga Continues: Dick's Initial thrust

I've been meaning to post some lesser-known Roger Troutman joints, but got held up trying to rip Shirley Murdock's 1986 album.
So, instead we're gonna give you two of my favorite cuts from another Troutman side project, Dick Smith's "Initial Thrust." This is kinda a weird project in that it comes off like a early-eighties version of jazz/soul vocalist album in the style of Lou Rawls in the mid-sixties on Capitol. Dick is a real interpreter of songs and on this, his only album, he tackles mostly cover tunes with a few Troutman-penned tunes squeezed in. The covers are WAY better, in my opinion, than the originals and they all have that Roger touch . . . that "more bounce" BOOM-CLAP.

Dick Smith - Tobacco Road
This opening track from Dick's album screams Roger from the first drum-kick. I've never really gotten into this old war-horse of a song until this version. Dick really rips into it by the end.

Dick Smith - Long and Winding Road
THIS is my jam! I know its smooth with those muted trumpets and tender beat, but not since Clapton re-did Layla has a cover version turned a song on its head. This album was Dick Smith's first AND last "thrust."

. . . over to you Morgan. Do it roger!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Disco Monster #5: Alton McClain & Destiny

I've been a bit negligent as of late on the ole blog, but I'm gonna try and make up for it in the next couple of days with a slew of posts. I'll keep this one short and to the point. Disco-Funk, Funky-Disco . . . whatever you wanna call it, Alton McClain & Destiny serve it up real nice from this 1979 album. I never knew much about this vocal group with a clunky name and browsing the web there's not much out there on the band. Their records are not too common, so grab one if you see it. I noticed that the newest Wax Poetics has a Re:Discovered about the groups' third album, "Gonna Tell the World." I've only heard this first one of theirs. Here are a couple songs I like from the album.

Alton McClain & Destiny - It Must Be Love
This tune has got more than a little in common with The Emotion's "Best of My Love" from around the same time. But then it also stands on its own as a great slice of dancefloor pop.

Alton McClain & Destiny - Push and Pull
This one is more on the funk tip. Whoever did production and led the band on this one did I great job. It's a bit gritty while also being super smooth.

Morgan asked if the picture of Animal was taken from Diana Ross' appearance on the Muppet show. I don't think it is. I know Sesame Street had a disco album "Sesame Street Fever" and his Travolta look could have been from that . . . Check out Diana Ross and the muppets here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Southern Soul Greats #1: Sam Dees

I've been a huge fan of southern soul music dating back to when I first started to take music seriously and dig deeper than the obvious selections and regular radio station fare. I'm gonna start a little on-going series here highlighting some of the lesser-known, or maybe well-known, southern soul greats. Today's great is Sam Dees, who I only came across more recently. The first I heard of him was a song or two on one of the excellent tapes that my good friend Hugh made for me nearly 7 years ago now. I happened to catch a glimpse of the album cover while popping through London and staying at Hugh's flat, so from then on I knew what I was looking for, but I had yet to hear the whole album. Next I picked up the excellent Southern Soul compilation, "Birmingham Sound: The Soul Of Neal Hemphill, Vol. 1" and there was another Sam Dees track, "Train to Tampa." And finally, at the infamous Alameda Flea Market I chance upon Sam's hard-to-find lone solo LP, "The Show Must Go On."

My copy's a bit warped, but I'm glad to have it anyway as it gave me the chance to really get into what might be one of the best 1970s Southern Soul records. For me, it's up there with the best Al Green or Ann Peebles record from the same decade and stands as one of the later entries into the classic Southern Soul cannon. While most soul singers were wavering on the brink of disco by 1975, Sam was keeping it real and gritty with some excellent songs, superb emotionally straining vocal delivery and excellent session players and back-up singers behind him. While this is his only LP , he has many a single that you can check out here and he has a couple CDs (Second to None & Heritage of a Black Man) of demos and unreleased cuts that I have yet to check out. I could have shared nearly any number of songs from this album, but I decided on these two.

Sam Dees - What's It Gonna Be?
Sam Dees - Good Guys

PS - not to worry, there will be more Zapp & Roger coming up soon - the tag-team continues!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Roger part two: Computer Love

ROGER!! When The Ambassador's brother and I used to cruise around in his truck, I would always insist we listen to his "Best of Roger (and Zapp)" tape. It basically had most of the first Zapp album and about half of the first solo Roger album. Also "Computer Love." So solid. My punk roommate walked by and sort of rolled his eyes when he saw me doing my fist pump thing while recording Computer Love earlier today. I hadn't given it a spin in a number of months so I can be forgiven for getting into one of my favorite songs. This cut sounds a bit dated, I know, but its Roger at his purest (and smoothest.) It's a "remix" of the original which means its shorter and sort of punchier. (Actually its pretty different.) If anyone likes I would be happy to provide the instrumental of this song which is probably about the least non-vocal instrumental version I've ever heard. From the "A Brand New Maxi Single IV U" 12".

Zapp - Computer Love (remix) This is one of those "mixtapes for ladies" songs for me (for better or worse.) Despite some serious willpower and desire, I'm sorry to say I've never quite been able to rock this one at a party... We'll get there.

The Human Body - Make You Shake It Now for something slightly more danceable... a much, much later incarnation of Roger and the Human Body! Its from 1984!! Actually Roger's name has been dropped from the band title although he still retains a producing credit (and some artistic control presumably.) It kind of sounds a lot like Zapp, not a bad thing