Social Distancing Spins – Days 22-24

By Joel Francis

Saturdays and Sundays are for family time. I think the trend of fewer weekend spins and a combined entry spanning Friday through Sunday will continue going forward.

The Dirtbombs – Ultraglide in Black (2001) Musically speaking, the Motor City is best known for two groundbreaking styles of music: Motown, of course, and the raw rock and roll that would become punk, pioneered by the MC5 and Stooges. The Dirtbombs combine both of these genres masterfully on this tribute to their hometown. Hearing Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye get a layer of scuzzy guitars and blown-out drums not only casts the songs in a new light but is a pure delight. If you like Detroit music, heck if you’ve ever driven a Ford, you’ll find something to like here.

I saw the Dirtbombs touring in support of another album, several years after Ultraglide came out. The show started after midnight and there were about a dozen people in the audience. It was fantastic.

The Temptations – All Directions (1972) Before taking the compass to All Directions, let’s pause for a moment and marvel at the industriousness of the Motown machine. All Directions was the first of two Temptations releases in 1972. Overall, it was their 16th studio album (counting two full-length collaborations with the Supremes) in only eight years. Think about that for a moment. In less than a decade, they went from “The Way You Do the Things You Do” to “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Wow!

“Papa” is the standout track here, a No. 1 hit on the U.S pop charts, but the rest of the album isn’t a bunch of cast-offs. “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On” starts the album with a faux-concert intro before the five Tempts trade lead vocals a la “Ball of Confusion.” Album closer “Do Your Thing” is a rare example of Motown covering Stax. The version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” won’t make anyone forget Roberta Flack, but newcomer Richard Street handles it well. After this album, the Temptations took a whole seven months off (during which they were no doubt touring) before releasing their next album.

Tom Petty – Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) (1987)

Tom Petty – The Last DJ (2002) Last autumn, I was on a business trip with the better part of a day to burn in Gainesville, Fla. Knowing that was Tom Petty’s home town, I did some online sleuthing and found several Petty-related points of interest to visit. The night I got in, I was walking around a nice little square of shops near my hotel when a sign caught my eye: Lillian’s Music Store. I had to go in. As I ordered my drink the bartender who gave me the scoop: Lillian’s hadn’t been a music store for some time (it claims to be the oldest bar in Gainesville) but kept the former occupant’s business name. Which is why on the song “Dreamville,” the third track on The Last DJ, Petty sings “Goin’ down to Lillian’s music store/To buy a black diamond string/Gonna wind it up on my guitar/Gonna make that silver sing.”

Now, the larger question is this: If I am going to buy a drink at Lillian’s Music Store chiefly because it appears in a Tom Petty lyric, as a Clash fan am I likewise obliged to get inked at the Death Or Glory tattoo parlor? The answer of course, is yes. And yet it didn’t happen. My apologies, Mick and Joe.

One more quick note about Lillian’s. They had these weird heavy, glass dishes that I hadn’t seen for several years scattered around inside. Ashtrays. Because indoor smoking is still cool in Florida, I guess. All my clothes smelled afterward and I had to double-bag them so they wouldn’t reek into the rest of my luggage.

A couple quick thoughts about the music on these albums before moving on, because this is already running long. Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough) contains one of my favorite Petty deep tracks, “Runaway Trains.” It has very ‘80s production and feels almost more like an adult contemporary tune closer to something Sting or Steve Winwood would come up with than anything in the Heartbreakers catalog. I love it because it is so unusual and has those great Petty lyrics and singing. This album also has “It Will All Work Out,” one of my all-time favorite Petty songs. The Last DJ is excellent, except for the song “Joe,” which is my least favorite Petty song. It sounds like a demo that should have been scrapped in the studio. You should still own both albums.

David Bowie – Station to Station (1976) One of many favorite moments from catching David Bowie’s concert on the Reality tour during its stop in Kansas City, Mo. was watching him hang out on the side of the stage, arms holding on to the scaffolding, grooving along to as his band churned through the long instrumental introduction to “Station to Station.” It was the first song in the encore set and for those minutes, Bowie was just another music fan, like all of us in the crowd.

Bowie claimed to have no memories of making this album, but Station to Station’s detached, synthesized paranoia paved a direct path to Joy Division.  Single “TVC15” was durable enough to find a spot in Bowie’s Live Aid set nearly a decade later and his cover of “Wild is the Wind” is an touching showcase of Bowie’s vocal talent. An essential addition to any rock fan’s music collection.

Elvis Costello – Imperial Bedroom (1982) Elvis Costello’s seventh album concludes an incredible opening run with the country tribute Almost Blue as the only misstep. (Almost Blue doesn’t miss because of the genre – the songs and performances just aren’t as strong as on the surrounding albums.) Former Beatles engineer pulls several tricks out of George Martin’s playbook with his gorgeous production arrangements. I love the orchestral countermelody on “And in Every Home” and what sounds like a sitar on “Human Hands.” Not every song is dressed up. “Tears Before Bedtime” and “Man Out of Town” have a pared-down Attractions sound that could have come from Trust, Costello’s previous album. It’s not hard to imagine bands like the Decemberists obsessing over Imperial Bedroom and coming away with dozens of ideas. Costello wouldn’t stay in this baroque mood for long, however. By the next album (and year) he had moved on to a more modern sheen and added the TKO Horns for Punch the Clock.

Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell (2019) Lana Del Rey got a lot of buzz when her album Born to Die came out nearly a decade ago. I watched her on Saturday Night Live, eager to hear what the fuss was about and sampled her debut album before dismissing her as a joke trying too hard to be ironic (and iconic). NFR is the album that finally won me over. Del Rey has built her catalog almost exclusively on torch songs, but here she does them really, really well. Early in the album, the sweeping guitars at the end of “Mariners Apartment Complex” lead right into “Venice Bitch,” which slowly builds into a psychedelic meltdown. Later, Del Rey delivers one of the sexiest music nerd songs ever on “The Next Best American Record.” Don’t ever say she doesn’t know her demographic. The super-profane opening couplet that opens the album belongs in the poetry hall of fame as a stand-alone lyric. I don’t know how long LDR will be able to hold me, but she definitely got me with NFR.

Slobberbone – Bees and Seas: The Best of Slobberbone (compilation) Alt-country fans lamenting the end of Uncle Tupelo need look no further than Slobberbone. The questionably named quartet from Texas perform with the same reckless abandoned that fueled UT classics “Screen Door” and “Gun.” This two record set devotes roughly one side to each of the band’s four albums. The band remains remarkably consistent in sound a quality throughout. There are no detours into horn sections or bagpipes and Brent Best’s songwriting via scenes of everyday life never fail to suck me in. Sadly, like Uncle Tupelo, Slobberbone is no longer releasing new material. Unlike their forebearers, though, Best and company frequently reunite and tour.

The Kinks – Face to Face (1966) As the Fab Four started to migrate toward more intricate, artistic material, the Kinks stepped right into the void, albeit with a more garage-y sound. Straightforward rockers “Party Line” and “Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home” set the album off strong, but Ray Davies takes a couple surprising turns with the Indian instruments on “Fancy” and faux-Hawaiian guitars on “Holiday in Waikiki,” a charming tale about winning a holiday in the Pacific. “Dandy” is the type of music hall number only an Englishman could write (and probably stomach – it’s much to cloying for me). Several years ago, I was fortunate to hear Ray Davies perform “Sunny Afternoon,” my favorite song from Face to Face, in concert. It remains an enduring memory of a fantastic night.

Review: Big Head Todd and the Monsters

(Above: Big Head Todd and the Monsters burn down the house with the mellow, jangly “City on Fire.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Less than four months after swinging through town in their rootsy Big Head Blues Club guise, the Colorado quartet Big Head Todd and the Monsters delivered a full-on rock show Saturday night at Crossroads KC.

February’s show at the Midtown was a tribute to Robert Johnson, complete with guests like celebrated blues sidemen Hubert Sumlin and James Cotton. Although the most recent show didn’t have all of the former’s trappings and production, it still felt like an upbeat homage to the blues and the Monster’s influences.

The 100-minute set featured a couple Johnson numbers, both rearranged to the point that it’s doubtful that Johnson’s ghost would recognize them as his own. “Last Fair Deal Gone Down” rested on a loping bassline until the end. The band seemed to change its mind at the coda and switched to a more traditional arrangement that served them well.

The best numbers were the ones that traded the band’s effortlessly smooth sound for chutzpah. Frontman Todd Park Mohr showed surprising grit and gravitas tackling John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf. It is no coincidence that the show’s two highest moments pivoted on the readings of “Smokestack Lightnin’” and Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” and “Boom Boom.”

Several numbers, such as “Sister Sweetly” and “Back to the Garden,” mined the electric organ and wah wah guitar sound of Parliament/Funkadelic. “Neckbreaker” combined the lyrical style of Jimi Hendrix with the chaotic bridge from “Whole Lotta Love.”

Other surprising facets of the band’s sound included John Mellencamp on “Dinner with Ivan” and Bob Dylan and the Band on the excellent “City on Fire” and “Rocksteady,” which used the same chord progression as “All Along the Watchtower.” Keyboard player Jeremy Lawton frequently channeled Steve Winwood or Ray Manzarek. His beefy parts helped the lofty choruses soar even higher.

The Monsters work hard, but their sound is so polished that even when Mohr is powering through a solo the overall performance still sounds laid-back. It’s hard to be offended by the band’s understated pop melodies, but it’s also hard to get too excited about them. Ergo, the lawn at Crossroads was barely a third full, at best. Everyone there was either a die-hard fan, or didn’t have anything better to do.

By the time the house lights briefly came on before the encore, it seemed everyone who wasn’t a big-time fan had long moseyed to the exit. Those who remained, however, were treated to two of the band’s biggest and best numbers, “Broken Hearted Savior” and “Circle.”

Setlist: All the Love You Need; Sister Sweetly; Come On In My Kitchen; Dinner With Ivan; Bittersweet; Last Fair Deal Gone Down; Neckbreaker; Smokestack Lightnin’; Cashbox; Helpless; City On Fire; Back to the Garden; Under A Silvery Moon; Dirty Juice; Conquistador; Boogie Chillen/Boom Boom; It’s Alright; Rocksteady. Encore: Broken-Hearted Savior;  Circle.

Keep reading:

Review: Big Head Blues Club

Review: Jack Johnson

Review: Pete Yorn, Ben Kweller

Original Wailers keep promise to Bob Marley

(Above: The Original Wailers perform Bob Marley’s classic “No Woman No Cry,” in 2008.)
By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Guitarist Junior Marvin’s two musical heroes growing up: Bob Marley and Stevie Wonder.

And in a twist he couldn’t have dreamed of back then, both Marley and Wonder made competing offers for his services. It was Valentine’s Day, 1977.

Marvin had met Marley through Island Records president Chris Blackwell, who knew of Marvin’s work with Traffic in England. Wonder, meanwhile, saw Marvin play in the States with T-Bone Walker, Ike and Tina Turner and Billy Preston.

“I mean, how can you choose?” Marvin said. “Just getting a call from either of these guys was a dream come true, and I got calls from both on the same day.”

He sought the advice of friends and family and other musicians, he said.

“They said I had to go with the man who shared my heritage. I’m Jamaican, so I chose Bob Marley.”

Junior Marvin, left, with Bob Marley.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Marley and the Wailers were getting ready to record “Exodus.” Marvin’s distinctive guitar work was all over future classics “Jamming,” “One Love,” “Wait in Vain” and “Three Little Birds.” In 1999, Time magazine declared “Exodus” the album of the century.

“When Time wrote that, it was probably the proudest moment of my career,” Marvin said. “I am proud of that album. We all worked so hard on it. It was an honor to be selected over Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.”

In 1978, the Wailers produced the album “Kaya” and the hit “Is This Love.” The following year Marvin played on “Survival,” which united him with Al Anderson. Anderson, who had delivered the timeless guitar solo on Marley’s early hit “No Woman No Cry,” had left the Wailers in 1976 to work with Peter Tosh.

“I met Al while I was playing with T-Bone. He was working with Mary Young and playing on Island sessions at the time,” Marvin said. “One night I had a dream I would have the opportunity to play in a group with Al.”

Both Anderson and Marvin played with Marley until his death in 1981. Shortly after Marley died, they made a pact to continue performing as the Wailers.

“We spent time with Bob in Germany while he was ill,” Marvin said. “He asked us to keep the band together after he was gone. He made us promise to keep the standard of music high, but to create our own songs as well.”

Led by bass player Aston “Family Man” Barrett, the Wailers released three studio albums and three live efforts after Marley’s death. In 2008, the group collaborated with Kenny Chesney on a No. 1 country hit, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.”

“That was a lot of fun,” Marvin said. “He was real down-to-earth. He was interested in our history and was even talking about the possibility doing a reggae album.”

Chesney shot the video for “Heaven” in Jamaica with the Wailers. The band appeared happy on tape, but trouble was brewing. Before the end of the year, Marvin and Anderson left the band.

“We looked up to Family Man as our leader, but when his girlfriend took over it became a John and Yoko kind of thing,” Marvin said. “It was like the other band members didn’t count. There were no rehearsals, and we were not represented financially.”

The guitarists felt the musical standards weren’t living up to their promise to Marley, so they struck out on their own as the Original Wailers. Despite boasting two lead guitarists, the division of labor in the Original Wailers is relatively simple. Because they overlapped on only a few albums, each man plays lead on the material where he originally appeared. As a lead singer before his stint in the Wailers, Marvin handles the vocals.

“Whenever we play, we explain the two Wailers to people,” Marvin said. “I think there’s room for all of us to coexist.”

Original Wailers shows, Marvin said, are about half Marley classics and half new material. This summer he hopes the Original Wailers will release their first album, “Justice.”

“We just got off a five-week European tour, and the reaction to the classics and the new songs was pretty much the same,” Marvin said. “Obviously more people were able to sing along to ‘Buffalo Soldier,’ but they were dancing and enjoying the new songs as well. We were thrilled to see that.”

Marvin said he feels Marley’s spirit in all the music he creates and has no regrets about choosing Marley over Wonder back in 1977. Besides, he got his chance to play with Stevie Wonder.

“I have a photo of me standing between Stevie and Bob singing ‘jamming in the name of the Lord,’ ” Marvin said. “It’s from when we played the first black music convention in Philadelphia for (Philly soul songwriters and producers Kenny) Gamble and (Leon) Huff. It was a proud moment to be standing on the same stage as those two men at the same time.”

Keep reading:

Review: The Original Wailers

Review: Toots and the Maytals, the Wailers

Review: Sly and Robbie

Review: Lee “Scratch” Perry

Brenda Holloway – “Every Little Bit Hurts”

Brenda Holloway – “Every Little Bit Hurts,” Pop #11
Motown may have been “the sound of young America,” but this song was clearly aiming for an older audience. Lee Cobb’s writing is obviously influenced by the Burt Bacharach/Hal David team, but Brenda Holloway’s pristine, nuanced delivery elevates the song above imitator status. Her restraint is the key – Holloway trusts the melody and structure will carry the song further than her lungs. She was right. Although the style is closer to supper club than street party, Holloway and Cobb inspired a legion of artists to take it on.

The Spencer Davis Group, fronted by a young Steve Winwood, had a hit with it in 1965. A year later, the Small Faces tried their hand on it. Funkmaster George Clinton turned the song into a duet in 1972 when he performed it with Diane Brooks. Alicia Keys released a more faithful version on her 2006 live album “Unplugged.” Proving once again there were few musical stones they wouldn’t turn over, The Clash recorded a cover in the early ‘80s. Fellow English punkers The Jam also cut a version about the same time. — by Joel Francis