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Archive for September, 2018

Fifty Year Friday: John Martyn, The Beau Brummels

Though 1968 was the era of electronic music, there are many fine acoustic or mostly acoustic albums that were released in October 1968 including John Martyn’s second album, and The Beau Brummels’ fifth album.

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Approximately a year after the release of John Martyn’s first album, London Conversation, a relaxed, leisurely studio rendition of mostly original British folk material he was performing for small venue audiences in 1967, Martyn released a more upbeat, energetic and stronger album. The Tumbler, that better showcased his musical skills with the music incorporating rock and jazz elements.

On The Tumbler, Martyn adds additional musicians for a fuller sound and to support the greater musical variety of the compositions.  In London Conversation, we get a sampling of flute from Martyn himself, but on this second album we get Jamaican-born jazz flautist, Harold McNair, who played and recorded with Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, as well as appeared on a number of Donovan albums and on tenor sax on the James Bond Dr. No theme.  The quality of production handled by twenty-two year-old Al Stewart is quite good, with a more forward, active sound, spotlighting individual instruments.  All instruments are acoustic, with no drums on any track. The album closes with the guitar-dominated instrumental “Seven Black Roses”, the highlight of the album.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks composed by John Martyn except where indicated.

  1. “Sing A Song of Summer” – 2:22
  2. “The River” – 2:59
  3. “Goin’ Down to Memphis” – 3:12
  4. “The Gardeners” (Bill Lyons) – 3:15
  5. “A Day at the Sea” – 2:35
  6. “Fishin’ Blues” (Henry Thomas) – 2:37
  7. “Dusty” – 3:07
  8. “Hello Train” – 2:36
  9. “Winding Boy” (Jelly Roll Morton) – 2:22
  10. “Fly on Home” (Martyn, Paul Wheeler) – 2:33
  11. “Knuckledy Crunch and Slippledee-slee Song” – 2:55
  12. “Seven Black Roses” – 4:02

Personnel

  • John Martyn – vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards
  • Harold McNair – flute
  • David Moses – double bass
  • Paul Wheeler – guitar

 

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As noted in earlier posts, the latter half of 1968 introduced several albums that blended  rock and country music, albums often authored by Canadian-born or Californian-based musicians.  One notable such album was The Beau Brummels’ Bradley’s Barn.

The Beau Brummels hailed from San Francisco, forming in 1964 and releasing their first two albums in 1965, incorporating folk and British-invasion elements. Though later denied by band members, legend has it that they chose the name, “Beau Brummels” for its English sound and so their albums would be shelved in records store bins immediately after the best-selling Beatles.

Their first album, heavily influenced by the British Invasion sound, peaked at number 24 on the Billboard album chart and included ten of twelve original songs, all written by lead guitarist, Ron Elliott, or in one case by Elliot and sometimes collaborator, Bob Durand. Sal Valentino was the lead vocalist, and its interesting to follow his development as a singer and his greater, often extreme use, of vibrato as well as Elliot’s and Valentino’s shift to more of a country sounds in their subsequent albums.

in 1966, with their label, Autumn, verging on collapse, the band starting recording their third album.  Warner Brothers purchased the group from Autumn, but the transaction didn’t cover publishing rights.  So despite a number of already recorded original songs planned for this third album, Warner Brothers directed the group to record an album of covers,  The album was a commercial flop.

In 1967, the group released a concept-inspired album of mostly original music, Triangle, considered by many a pre-country rock classic mixing folk, rock, country and hints of psychedelic and progressive elements.  Outstanding tracks include”Magic Hollow”, “Triangle” and the excellent “The Wolf of Velvet Fortune.”

In 1968, The Beau Brummels, down to just two members, Sal Valentino and Ron Elliot,  after losing their bass player to the draft, recorded their fifth album at Bradley’s Barn, a studio a few miles from Nashville.  Joined by studio musicians like guitarist Jerry Reed and drummer Kenny Buttrey , this album named after the recording site, is perhaps the most authentic and highest quality of the handful of early country-rock albums recorded in 1968.  I say, “perhaps”, as I am not really a country music fan.  I love bluegrass, particularly live, and can listen intently to the country music recorded on 78s in the twenties and thirties, but generally not much attracted to the commercial country music or country rock of the last sixty years.  Yet, this album of all but one original song holds my attention and gets my respect. Valentino continues to evolve his use of vocal vibrato, incorporating an authentic country twang, some Bob Dylan influence, and extending his own range of effective emotional delivery.

With this level of excellence, the group was set up nicely for greater artistic and commercial success, but shortly after the release of Bradley’s Barn, Valentino and Elliot went their separate ways, Valentino soon starting up a new band,  Stoneground, and Eliot releasing a solo album and producing or playing guitar on various albums. The band temporarily reformed in 1974, and at various times later, with their most recent album, Continuum, released in March 2013.

 

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

1 “Turn Around” Bob Durand, Elliott 3:03
2. “An Added Attraction (Come and See Me)” Valentino 3:03
3. “Deep Water” Elliott, Valentino 2:33
4. “Long Walking Down to Misery” Elliott 3:16
5. “Little Bird” Elliott 2:42
6. “Cherokee Girl” Durand, Elliott 3:36
7. “I’m a Sleeper” Elliott, Valentino 3:20
8. “Loneliest Man in Town” Elliott 1:54
9. “Love Can Fall a Long Way Down” Durand, Elliott 4:16
10. “Jessica” Elliott, Valentino 2:22
11. “Bless You California” Randy Newman 2:16

Personnel

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Fifty Year Friday: Jefferson Airplane and HP Lovecraft

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Jefferson’s Airplane Fourth studio album, released sometime in September of 1968, continues their expansion of San Francisco folk-flavored psychedelic rock, with a mostly denser, darker and more spontaneous, jam-rock-enriched sound.

Grace Slick scores big again, starting from the instant the needle hits the vinyl with her composition “Lather”, which though inspired by her fellow bandmate, and bedmate, drummer Spencer Dryden, turning thirty, also has been crafted to have a more poignant message about an intellectually disabled adult named Lather:

“Lather was thirty years old today,
They took away all of his toys…

“He looked at me eyes wide and plainly said,
Is it true that I’m no longer young?
And the children call him famous,
what the old men call insane,
And sometimes he’s so nameless,
That he hardly knows which game to play…
Which words to say…
And I should have told him, “No, you’re not old.”
And I should have let him go on…smiling…babywide.”

Another impressive track on this first side is Slick’s rendition of David Crosby’s “Triad” with Crosby on guitar.  The Byrds had recorded the work for inclusion on the final Byrds album with Crosby, The Notorious Byrd Brothers,  and for whatever reasons (conjectured explanations range from the nature of the lyrics to the quality of the song to internal band politics and ego-clashes), the Byrds dropped it’s inclusion.  Perhaps this was for the best, as not only was their no hesitation on the Airplane’s part to record this, but Slick on an album of material otherwise written by the band, but the change of the gender of the personna makes the lyrics work out even better.

The rest of the album is generally heavier, rockier and with a more complex sound with the final song covering the nuclear demise of the earth — the Jefferson Airplane are still producing commercially-in-demand and modern, cutting-edge material, with this album having made it as high as the sixth spot on the Billboard album chart.

Jefferson Airplane {from Wikipedia}

Additional musicians

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With a very promising well crafted first album, featuring haunting, distinct, yet harmonious vocals between co-founders George Edwards and classically-trained Dave Michaels, thoughtfully arranged compositions and a sophisticated approach to psychedelic folk-rock that included timpani, harpsichord, piccolo, renaissance recorder, saxophones, clarinet, french horn, tuba, trombone and vibes, H. P. Lovecraft, named after the American horror-fiction writer, recorded their second album in the summer of 1968, releasing it in September of 1968 with no special title, simply called “H P Lovecraft II” with  a small “II”as seen in the album cover above.

This second album is more progressive, but due to a demanding concert schedule, the band had little time to prepare, with the result being a less disciplined effort than the first album, but a step forward musically.  Like their namesake, the author, H. P. Lovecraft, fortune, or even decent wages, were not to be theirs. The group disbanded in 1969, with a subsequent reformation as simply “Lovecraft” and then again as “Love Craft”, but without the leadership and musical skills of George Edwards and Dave Michaels, the band had a much different sound,  lacking that other-worldly, psychedelic, borderline progressive quality of this second album.

H. P. Lovecraft {from Wikipedia}

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