The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, April 04, 2008
  Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Boys? (Briefly Noted)
I'm more than pleasantly surprised by most of A Tribute To Blind
Alfred Reed. I'd heard a few of his own tracks, like on Harry Smith's
Smithsonian Anthology Of American Folk Music, and mainly remembered
them as quaintly charming, in a preachy way. But the A-List Nashville
cats (several of whom have played on Dylan's Nashville sets, as far
back as Blonde On Blonde) and Public Radio/folkie-circuit mainstays
start right out kidding the moralism, honestly commenting (rather than
pretending to share his strictures), and really they're honoring the
songs with that response, and also by bringing out , rather than
injecting, the catchier, blues-rag-para-vaudville implications. Reed
knew he had to compete with Jimmy Rodgers, after all, balancing
between different audience factions' concerns with authenticity and
pop (Ry Cooder's liner notes provide some background, and although
Cooder himself doesn't play on this, Nat Reese's guitar grind, slip
and grind on "Black And Blue Blues" reminds me of what young Ry
brought to Captain Beefheart's blues, as the surreal, thump 'n' shift
of the words' impact also preceeds Beefheart). Some artists do play
the piety dead serious; most effective is Larry Groce's electric "You
Must Unload," which what Slow Train Comin'-era Dylan was going for
(this is more succinct: dropping that load is what you got a trapdoor
for). Connie Smith and Marty Stuart keep the mountains and the tears
rippling along too, Kathy Mattea does things with pills and sugar, and
the Carpenter Ants bear it way—doesn't always work, but even the
lesser stuff moves on eventually, as all things must (Oh yeah, and
"The Telephone Girl" is an ancestor of Internet angels, and Ann
Magnuson overdubs herself into a Lily Tomlinesque, deadpan-twangin'
missionary chorus line on "Why Do You Bob Your Hair, Girls"—and like I
said, Blind Alfred folded in whatever earthly entertainment value
would get him and his message in the door—like some of my ancestors
were a girl gospel quartet/acrobatics team, in that same time and
space) (On Proper American, fittingly enough.)
Another wayfaring homeboy, Ed Sanders, has recently 'llowed Collectors
Choice Music to recycle Sanders' Truckstop and Beer Cans On The Moon.
The first, from 1970, is usually described as hippie parodies of
country folk, but Sanders was from Oklahoma before the Lower East
Side, and it's more the banana-peel ass-speck of all human existence
that he celebrates and commiserates with here. "Jimmy Joe, The
Hippybilly Boy" won't leave them hills of OK cuz he loves 'em, he's
the peacenik side of Ed (goes back to save one drowning soul too many,
gets his groovy long hair wrapped around the rear-view mirror) while
the illin' Johnny Pissoff of "The Illiad" is a bloody-minded Ed that
mighta been if he'd stayed in the sticks, isolated and righteous.
Really it's about 1969/1970, the napalm and other smog that blurs
roles, and leaves several horny wraiths waltzing through the crash
pads and round the mountain, with "Banshee," "Breadtray Mountain,"
"Homesick Blues" and "They're Cutting My Coffin At The Sawmill"
particulary worthy of the Holy Modal Rounders, others more like
Working Man's Dead, though Deadpan Ed should have gone for more takes on some
of the vocals (according to Richie Unterberger, who provides extensive
notes, including quotes from unfavorable reviews, in the booklets of
both CDs, Sanders' Truck Stop employs drummer/sometime pianist John
Ware and bassist John Ware, both from Linda Ronstadt's band, when
she'd left the Stone Ponys but was still promoting that hit version of
Michael Nesmith's "Different Drum," and these same guys soon joined
Nesmith's First National Band; plus, David Bromberg, Patrick Sky, Jay
Unger, "and, on steel guitar and banjo, Bill Keith, who'd been in
Bill Monroe's group and Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band, " but a pretty
lean, flexible sound). Beer Cans On The Moon came out in 1972, and is more
topical at times, but resists datedness with all sorts of little
twists in the vocals, words, tunes, and arrangements (music is more
varied, and includes a guy from Woody Herman's band, as well as Jake
Jacobs, who had played on some Fugs tracks; his own band, Jake & The
Family Jewels, released The Big Moose Calls His Baby Sweet Lorraine,
with a sweet, croony cover of "When Will I Believed" which I was
floating through 'til Cannonball Ronstadt's version blasted me towards
taking refuge with Patti Smith and Television's early work. Just as
well, it was time to wake up and move on, I guess? ).Meanwhile, back
on Beer Cans, the split between idealism and satire is more apparent
now, also its entanglement, esp. when Ed wishes everyone a "Six-pack
of Sunshine" while beating his head against a wall (but also spouting
some lovely lines), and sitting "in a geodesic honky-tonk"on the title
track, right about the time the whole universe is turning into the poor side o' town.
"Yodeling Robot" 's electric autoharp bounces like particles, while
trad. country's keep-a-goin' formalism is honored by said robot,
hopelessly but stoically in love with Dolly Parton, 'cos "I-yern eyes,
can-not cry." "Henry Kissinger" sounds like the Irish
alderman/slumlord on that album I reviewed in Voice last year,
McNally's Row Of Flats. "Albion Craigs" is a funky
almost-gospel-reggae setting for William Blake. It's all Ed, for sure
(Not Pavoratti, not Dylan, and not the Fugs, but the kinda good when
it's good that you can't get anywhere else, given the quantity and quality of country-punkoid Ed herein--
unless it's on for
instance the countrier tracks on the Fugs' The Belle Of Avenue A,
which I haven't heard). Don Allred
Ed Sanders is from Missouri originally, and the locales mentioned in "Truckstop" are Missouri places.
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